Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Alexis Kings + Mashiri - Watford The Railway Club - Friday 4th March

Alexis Kings and Mashiri are the latest musical exports from St. Columba’s College, St. Albans. They follow in the long line of...err, well...Julian Peretta...oh, and Saving Aimee (although personally speaking I think the less said about them the better). Although some may expect a certain rivalry to have developed between these two bands, such competition has barely materialised beyond jokey banter and tonight’s show at The Railway Club in Watford sees the first occasion in which the two bands play together, at the top of the same bill at this charity gig.

After a few other acts, whom I’ll do the honour of not mentioning so I don’t have to be nasty about them; it’s time for Mashiri to take to the stage. They kick off their half-hour set with a top notch rendition of their original ‘hit’ “Banter”, a song that immediately gets the crowd going with its Rage against the Machine esque dynamics and its shout along chorus. Indeed the assembled masses, which were largely immovable bar some horrific eighties dancing throughout the sets of previous acts, soon spill into a fair-sized moshpit (blame Stuart Smith for that one I reckon). The energy in the room rises even further as the set progresses. A large reason for this is Mashiri frontman Danny Edwin who successfully goads the crowd into keeping the intensity going as the band roll through their songs. The rhythm section of drummer Hugo Beardsall and bassist Joe Clapham gives all the tracks on display the sort of forceful, driving foundation that all good heavy rock songs need. Having lost a little of their original Rage-esque dynamics, the quartet now have a sound more along the lines of more melodic hard rock bands such as Alter Bridge but also retaining some elements of classic metal acts like Metallica. The key cog in the wheel is guitarist Mark Goodfellow. His riffs are the missing link in all the songs and his solo in the penultimate song of the set is so impressive that at least two members of the crowd unfamiliar with the band approach him to congratulate his guitar slinging prowess. A rousing run through of the wonderfully fun “Yeah Roy!” ends Mashiri’s set on a high, with the mosh pit extending across the entire dance floor and including both Edwin and Clapham, the latter of whom leaves his bass onstage so as to dive into the crowd. The set finishes on a high and it’s hard to see how Alexis Kings can top it.

To be fair to the Kings, it’s hard to really compare the band with Mashiri. Whereas Mashiri are more of a heavy rock act, Alexis Kings place their stock defiantly in the indie corner. Whilst this may on the surface sound like a bad thing (I for one have a tendency to bash indie bands for being overly generic), Alexis Kings have actually managed a fair few songs of note. Kicking off with the instantly memorable “Niuq”, the band clearly has a fair few fans in the audience and despite the fact that they are not as heavy as Mashiri they still get a fair bit of movement within the crowd with their danceable, jaunty tracks. Singer Brendan Aherne leads the way with his vocals which gel perfectly with the riffs of lead guitarist Sam Privett and rhythm section of Rory McCarthy and Luke Carolan. Including a snippet of potentially the most famous song of the nineties, Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit”, proves masterly in upping the energy of the crowd and the band’s set gains even more rock ‘n’ roll credibility when it is curfewed halfway through the encore; the sound rig closing down and the lights coming on, much to the disappointment of the crowd. Despite not quite living up to the high standards set by Mashiri earlier on in the night (sorry Sam), Alexis Kings certainly provide a good deal of entertainment and if you like your music based around hooks and spiky riffs, they are certainly the band for you.

Mashiri - 8/10
Alexis Kings - 7/10

Mashiri go all psychedelic - reviewer's head in bottom left makes picture

Sadly that's not the sight of Hugo Beardsall doing a drum solo

Mashiri guitarist Mark Goodfellow rocks the fuck out (that's a technical term)

Alexis Kings: so cool they come in black and white

Yeah, ok, Alexis Kings are definitely more photogenic than Mashiri

Alexis Kings guitarist Sam Privett poses for the camera

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Top 100 albums of 2010

100. GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT - Age Of The Fifth Sun
99. OCTOBER TIDE - A Thin Shell
98. CATHEDRAL - The Guessing Game
97. OMAR RODRIGUEZ-LOPEZ & JOHN FRUSCIANTE - Omar Rodriguez-Lopez & John Frusciante
96. SOILWORK - The Panic Broadcast
95. FREDRIKA STAHL - Sweep Me Away
94. DEMIANS - Mute
93. LIGHTGUIDES - Past & Present
91. BAND OF HORSES - Infinite Arms
90. ORPHANED LAND - The Never Ending Way Of ORWarriOR
88. AUDREY HORNE - Audrey Horne
87. UNDEROATH - Ø (Disambugation)
86. COHEED & CAMBRIA - Year Of The Black Rainbow
85. JONSI - Go
84. JUROJIN - The Living Measure Of Time
83. ASTROHENGE - Astrohenge
82. PHOSPHORESCENT - Here's To Taking It Easy
81. SOULFLY - Omen
80. TOM MCRAE - The Alphabet Of Hurricanes
78. ADEBISI SHANK - This Is The Second Album Of A Band Called Adebisi Shank
77. A GENUINE FREAKSHOW - Oftentimes
76. SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH - Toward A Damaged Horizon
75. JIMMY EAT WORLD - Invented
74. DEAD LETTER CIRCUS - This Is The Warning
73. LOS CAMPESINOS! - Romance Is Boring
72. SIGH - Scenes From Hell
71. JAGA JAZZIST - One-Armed Bandit
70. EF - Golden Mourning
69. HARVEY MILK - A Small Turn Of Human Kindness
68. FAR - At Night We Live
67. ERRORS - Come Down With Me
66. FRIGHTENED RABBIT - The Winter Of Mixed Drinks
65. PULLED APART BY HORSES - Pulled Apart By Horses
62. ALCEST - Ecailles De Lune
61. KYLESA - Spiral Shadow
60. PERFUME GENIUS - Learning
57. INTRONAUT - Valley Of Smoke
56. ROSE KEMP - Golden Shroud
55. RINOA - An Age Among Them
54. ROLO TOMASSI - Cosmology
53. THE OCTOBE GAME - Wildblood
52. TRIPTYKON - Eparistera Daimones
51. KAKI KING - Junior

50. HIGH ON FIRE – Snakes For The Divine
Matt Pike may have been playing some shows with his old band, monumental stoners Sleep, but High On Fire are still in action and “Snakes For The Divine” sees the collection of some of their best material to date. Their drug-induced bouldering riffs and melting solos all collide to create what is, nothing but glorious heavy metal...and, let’s be honest, that’s all we really need.

49. GRINDERMAN – Grinderman 2
Nick Cave’s good time garage rock outfit are back for more fun and games, and singing about sex, of course. To be fair they have stepped it up in the seriousness stakes a bit this time but it is clear that, at the end of the day, this is a project in existence so that Cave and his cronies can rock out without fear of spoiling the Bad Seeds aura of mystique. Not something that’s going to win Cave any plaudits that he hasn’t already won but something that might win him a few new fans.

48. HER NAME IS CALLA – The Quiet Lamb
In parts this record is possibly the finest art/post-rock release of the year, especially with the three pronged “The Union” that closes the record. Let down by occasional moments where the ideas seem to have run a bit dry, “The Quiet Lamb” is, overarchingly, a work of great presence, proving that the UK is full of bands with the potential to achieve greatness if allowed, as Her Name Is Calla have done here. Featuring flourishes of strings, brass and flute amongst the standards of guitar, bass, keys and drums, this is perhaps what GY! BE might sound a bit like if they had Thom Yorke as a vocalist.

47. BIRDS OF TOKYO – Birds Of Tokyo
To those familiar with Australian vocalist Ian Kenny purely through his work in Karnivool, the third record of his other band Birds Of Tokyo may come as something of a surprise. This is certainly rock at the poppy end of the scale with the likes of “Plans” being perfect for mainstream radio airplay. That does not make it bad at all though. Although some of the songs are less fully formed than others, things only ever get as bad as Scarlett Johansson looks on an off day (i.e. still pretty amazing). In fact it’s fair to say that if only all mainstream rock records had the sumptuous songwriting present here then the music world would be in far better health.

46. PAIN OF SALVATION – Road Salt One
It’s easy to understand why some hate Daniel Gildenlöw and Pain of Salvation. They can be a fairly pretentious bunch at times, especially on their last two records. However “Road Salt One” sees the band returning to slightly more restrained paths and sounding all the better for it. Whilst there are still plenty of, perhaps unnecessary to some, proggy flourishes and weird voices thrown in this is a rock record first and foremost with the likes of “Sisters” and “Innocence” being amongst the best songs the band has created to date.

45. WOMEN – Public Strain
Despite seemingly being in a permanent state of band infighting, to the extent where they cancelled their last tour after an onstage brawl during one of the first shows, “Public Strain” is a delightfully coherent art rock record. Shimmering shoegazey guitars work with glistening post-punk melodies to create a wholesome batch of glistening indie. Let’s hope the band can stay together long enough to produce something just as good.

44. SHEARWATER – The Golden Archipelago
Blessed with the unique vocals of ex-Okkervil River man Jonathan Meiburg, Shearwater’s “The Golden Archipelago” is Steven Wilson’s favourite album of the year and it’s not all that difficult to see why. This is one of those albums that is genuinely uplifting, not because of any particularly happy subject matter but because of the soaring, yet downbeat, instrumentation. An intriguing record that hopefully points to further excellence when the band release their new effort in early 2011.

43. MURDER BY DEATH – Good Morning, Magpie
Murder By Death may sound a little too much like a post-metal band for your tastes but rest assured they’re actually intent on delivering arty post-punk of the highest order. Bluesy, with a sound boosted (as usual with their records) by the use of cello to create almost Morricone-esque soundscapes, Adam Turla’s crew can always be relied on for something just a little bit different, unlike lesser contemporaries such as Interpol.

42. THE OCEAN – Anthropocentric
Providing a seemingly more thought-out follow up to “Heliocentric”, which was delivered earlier in the year, “Anthropocentric” sees The Ocean closer to their best than on the aforementioned predecessor. Although still showing elements of the sound introduced with “Heliocentric”, this record sees the collective return somewhat to their dense layers of sound. Vocalist Loïc Rossetti is also on far better form, which makes a major difference.

41. IN MOURNING – Monolith
Although they could be criticised for being a little bit too Opeth, In Mourning’s brand of progressive death metal (albeit a brand that is heavier on the death than their more famous Swedish counterparts) is rather delightful. Heavy, yet showcasing a similar degree of songwriting nous to melodeath legends At The Gates and Dark Tranquillity, this is Scandinavian metal at its finest and its always great to see another band coming through the ranks as In Mourning have with this release.

40. GNAW THEIR TONGUES – L’Arrivée de la Terne Mort Triomphante
It’s hard to imagine what makes anyone want to create music as horrific as this. The title is just the tip of a grotesque iceberg with five lengthy tracks of progressively damaging musical experimentation. Taking black metal as a starting point and ending up in a region that must be somewhere close to insanity, elements of classical and ambient music can be found here but only in coalition to create something painfully powerful, like the soundtrack to the triumphant death that the title refers to. Although it’s a little too wearing to be truly brilliant, there’s enough here to impress any avant-garde music fan. Perhaps not one for listening to at night though...

39. ILIKETRAINS – He Who Saw The Deep
The Leeds based quartet produce a record of impressive grandeur with “He Who Saw The Deep”. Having freed themselves to an extent from the historical reigns that constricted rather than aided them on previous efforts, this album sees the group focus more on actual songwriting than ever before. Although musically this is still a post-rock album, there’s more of a sense here that iLiKETRAiNS could move ahead into something far more daring. A promising release for sure.

38. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM – This Is Happening
James Murphy is clearly set upon making himself the unenviable task of putting fellow dance acts like Hot Chip and Simian Mobile Disco in the shadows by creating another record that is both full of genuine emotion and exciting beats. The likes of “I Can Change” are also fully formed pop songs, helping this record stand as one not just for fans of electronic music but also ones for fans of honest, soulful songwriting as well.

37. 65DAYSOFSTATIC – We Were Exploding Anyway
65dos’s journey from the style of post-rock to electronic music has culminated in “We Were Exploding Anyway”. Yes there are guitars buried in here but they are layered under driving synthesizers and bewitching dance rhythms. Some moments fall rather flat (see the Robert Smith featuring “Come To Me”) but some of the stuff on here is completely outrageous in its willingness to break the musical barriers the band had previously set for itself. This is definitely one of the most enjoyable releases of the year and prompts audiences to go joyously nuts live just as it will prompt individuals to go joyously nuts sitting listening at home.

36. MASSIVE ATTACK – Heligoland
Massive Attack seem to delight in making everyone doubt them but they always deliver and “Heligoland” is no exception to that rule. The likes of “Pray For Rain” and “Splitting The Atom” are amongst the best songs that the trip-hop pioneers have ever recorded. This record may not see the band treading new ground in as much of a way as “100th Window” but it’s a wholesome, cohesive effort with a seemingly infinite replay value. It’s good to see one of Britain’s best bands return so emphatically.

35. DEERHUNTER – Halcyon Digest
Only imperfect in that it is not quite as good as it might of been, “Halcyon Digest” is another excellent album by Deerhunter with the quartet again proving adept at translating frontman Bradford Cox’s tales of woe into widescreen indie rock anthems. Perhaps something of an acquired taste, Cox’s vocals are often left to take centre stage as guitars and drums make a racket in the background, allowing the listener to focus in on the lyrical content. Occasionally there are moments that don’t quite fit in but overall this is a fine effort from the Atlantans, although that cover art is perhaps a little too weird.

34. BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE – Forgiveness Rock Record
Forget Arcade Fire, if you want someone to combine indie, baroque pop, post-rock and experimental music then do not dare forget that Broken Social Scene are still around at the top of their game. Despite their being frequently overlooked by the mainstream music press, “Forgiveness Rock Record” shows the Canadians somewhere near their best and determined to impress. Not flashy, just defiantly unique and charming. If forgiveness sounds like this then perhaps we should all do a little more of it.

33. CIRCA SURVIVE – Blue Sky Noise
It’s about time that Circa Survive truly stepped up to the plate and delivered a record of undeniable excellence and that’s what they do with “Blue Sky Noise”. Previous efforts have suffered from a lack of focus and too much filler but these flaws are cleanly extracted here. Anthony Green’s vocals are still as marmite as they come but fans of both prog and pop will find much to love in the band’s widescreen approach to alternative rock.

32. FLYING LOTUS – Cosmogramma
Flying Lotus is undoubtedly one of the most important electronic musicians of our time and “Cosmogramma” is an excellent follow up to 2008’s stunning “Los Angeles”. A brilliant collaboration with Thom Yorke on “...And The World Laughs With You” provides a notable highlight and, although not quite up to the standards of previous collections, this is another superb release.

31. THE PINEAPPLE THIEF – Someone Here Is Missing
Regularly compared to Radiohead and Porcupine Tree, Bruce Soord’s west country crew have created what is by far their best album to date with “Someone Here Is Missing”. More of a straightforward rock record than a prog album, this record sees concise songwriting alongside dashes of experimental flair. Highlights include the excellent “Preparation For Meltdown” and the memorable title track. It is certainly satisfying to get a record that finally sees the group live up to their potential.

30. CLOUDKICKER – Beacons
A solo project from Columbus, Ohio resident Ben Sharp, “Beacons” is an even finer set of work than last year’s predecessor. This doesn’t sound anything like the work of one man in his spare time, instead bearing more resemblance to a work borne out of hours of a band jamming away in the studio. Some moments are startlingly beautiful in their completeness and others beguiling in their complexity, smouldering riffs reigning down on one another as if this form of music was the most natural thing in the world.

29. THE FLASHBULB – Arboreal
In 2008 The Flashbulb (Benn Jordan) created one of the most sumptuous electronic albums for years and 2010 sees him follow that up with another slice of genius in “Arboreal”. Emotive in the same way as a perfectly balanced movie soundtrack, this is a work of great artistic skill. The ambient pieces flow into one another to startlingly attractive effect, proving that music far from traditional song structures can still inspire one to a state of true awe.

28. SUN KIL MOON – Admiral Fell Promises
Maybe one day, in the distant mists of the future, Mark Kozelek will cheer up. When that day arrives then hopefully his music career will have reached a natural conclusion because it is hard to believe that the man is really suited to anything other than the stupendously miserable slow folk that has become his trademark, through Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon and his other exploits. What matters is that Kozelek is still the master of his craft and “Admiral Fell Promises” is a brilliant return to form from the man after a bit of a patchy period. It’s not even that depressing...

27. ELECTRIC WIZARD – Black Masses
It’s hard to compare “Black Masses” to some of the more experimental and original releases that 2010 has seen but it’s not hard to proclaim it as one of the most enjoyable records of 2010. Dorset’s psychedelic stoner doom merchants have produced a slab of deliciously dense, fizzing riffage on this album, which is probably their finest since “Dopethrone”. It may be totally in thrall to Sabbath and it may well have sounded totally different to its creators when they were stoned recording it but its bloody hard not to love.

26. ARCADE FIRE – The Suburbs
Do you know what annoys me about Arcade Fire? It’s that, despite being constantly hailed as this oh-so-original art rock behemoth, they consistently create music that is unashamedly indie in nature. This doesn’t stop their music being very, very good as “The Suburbs” proves, but it does mean it’s hard to give them as much credit for the artistic flair that is present. This album is a great, no, a fantastic, collection of songs but it doesn’t carry the mark of a band that the rest of the rock world should look up to as pioneers. Leave that role for other bands and let Arcade Fire carry on writing their brilliant songs.

25. RED SPAROWES – The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer
Although there are plenty of people out there loving the chance to bemoan the quality in today’s post-rock scene far more than is actually necessary, the genre is still producing plenty of fine works. The latest Red Sparowes effort is certainly one of the finest in many years. More accomplished than the band’s previous works, this sees the group’s expansive sound restrained but all the more powerful as a result. A soaring example of instrumental brilliance.

24. FEAR FACTORY – Mechanize
When it was first revealed that Dino Cazares and Burton C. Bell had reunited in Fear Factory the metal world paused in shock. Thankfully the resulting album is a beast. A progression of Fear Factory’s purest sound, circa “Demanufacture”, but with occasional new stylistic aspects (like the guitar solo on “Fear Campaign”) this is better than anyone could have realistically hoped for. Whether the band will continue in the same vein is a mystery to all but this is one hell of a statement to make and it is one of the best metal records of 2010.

23. KVELERTAK – Kvelertak
Nutty Norwegians Kvelertak have decided that there is no point choosing your favourite genre to play when you could choose about seven different approaches and throw them all in a blender. A ludicrously enjoyable mix of black metal, hardcore punk, good time rock and sludge, all sung in angry sounding Norwegian, Kvelertak have created something as exciting as it is catchy, which considering the fact that I don’t speak Norwegian, is quite an achievement.

22. ROSETTA – A Determinism Of Morality
Rosetta claimed, before it was released, that their new record would be a seething hardcore journey rather than a brooding post-metal opus. In reality it is somewhere between the two and, perhaps as a direct result of that, is the group’s best work to date. Although the ambient soundscapes of their earlier work are still present here, they never threaten to lessen the blistering heaviness that Rosetta always have at their best. The epic closing title track might just be the best piece the band ever pen whilst this is also a lesson in conciseness that many similar bands could learn from. Nothing on “A Determinism...” overstays its welcome nor oversteps its mark, creating a sumptuous full-length.

21. SUFJAN STEVENS – The Age Of Adz
Having confirmed everyone’s suspicions that the whole “I’m gonna record an album for each US state” thing was a jokey marketing ploy, Sufjan Stevens returns with another album of pretty sensational experimental indie folk pop with added electronica. “The Age of Adz” is probably Stevens’ best full-length yet. The likes of “Vesuvius” and “I Want To Be Well” are pretty much pop songwriting perfection despite their instrumentation. Of course the term ‘pop’ might put some off but this isn’t the sound of Stevens catering to the mainstream; it’s the sound of Stevens at his most inspired and creative. Even the 25 minute (yes, 25 minutes long, you read that right) closer “Impossible Soul” somehow works out as being a 21st century pop anthem of true greatness.

20. LIARS – Sisterworld
“Sisterworld” is a record of such dark intensity that the likes of “Drop Dead” and “Scarecrows On A Killer Slant” are actually quite frightening, albeit brilliant. This experimental rock trio really are determined to be one of the most wonderfully unique acts around today, not so much in terms of musical structures but in terms of the melding of sounds into music that, for a change, is truly ‘alternative’. Liars are going to be remembered for their art and “Sisterworld” may just be the pinnacle of their career.

19. ENSLAVED – Axioma Ethica Odini
Some may be complaining that Enslaved have left their black/Viking metal roots too far behind them but, let’s be honest, those people are fools. Enslaved have grown into a band apart from any extreme metal scene and are all the better for it. More than any previous record by the band, “Axioma Ethica Odini” sees Enslaved outstripping their peers and creating something that is a work of supremely confident, heavy, atmospheric, progressive metal. Certainly the Norwegians’ best effort yet.

18. IHSAHN – After
The ex-Emperor man’s third solo record sees him pushing further into the progressive sphere than ever before, with the help provided by Shining saxophonist Jørgen Munkenby being especially crucial. What is perhaps most impressive is that, despite the fact that this is a record in which all the instrumentation is par de excellence, nothing is allowed to extend into the wankery that Dream Theater can occasionally be guilty of. Ihsahn has created something here that is deserving of the label ‘progressive metal’.

17. U.S. CHRISTMAS – Run Thick In The Night
Combining elements of psychedelia, prog, metal and country, U.S. Christmas (USX) have produced a fascinating journey with “Run Thick In The Night”, their debut for the Neurot label. The band’s sound is certainly as free flowing as could be hoped, no doubt assisted by the fact that all the individual members are given free reign over their instrumental parts. Hard to categorise, harder to criticise, this is the work of a band that have the potential to go on and create album after album of near perfection.

16. LETLIVE – Fake History
“Fake History” is an astonishing record in its determination to stand out from the post-hardcore crowd. Firstly because the band seems perfectly happy to chuck in bits of anything they want, from soul to jazz, and secondly because the consistent quality of the songs is of the highest standard one can ever expect from this kind of album. Letlive are one of the best new bands to emerge for many a year.

15. THE UNWINDING HOURS – The Unwinding Hours
Craig B and Iain Cook working together again is a dream for Aereogramme fans. This debut self-titled album sees the duo moving in similar circles to the last Aereogramme record; they could have got away with releasing it as an Aereogramme record I’m sure. The quality of the songs is undeniable and the gorgeous melodies are propelled into the skies by soaring vocals and frequently beautiful soundscapes. Closer “The Final Hour” may just be the best song to emerge in the entire history of the duo’s creative partnership. Let’s hope more is to come.

14. AMIA VENERA LANDSCAPE – The Long Procession
This Italian sextet provides post-metal both at its most aggressive and it’s most peaceful. The likes of opener “Empire” are rabid in their ferocity whilst the tranquillity of the ambient moments (including all of “Ascending”) is really something to behold. It is rare for a debut album to be as convincing as this and it suggests a special band. “The Long Procession” is certainly a special album, although one could argue that a bit more editing might be appropriate on occasion. This is certainly up there with the best underground metal debuts of the twenty-first century.

13. KANYE WEST – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
After a couple of disappointing records Kanye West returns to his very best with “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”. Featuring some brave moves, such as sampling King Crimson on the brilliant “Power”, and hooks aplenty (see the spellbinding “Monster”), this is a triumph of a genre that has been wading through treacle for many a year. West has proven himself an artist first and a pop star second. This is hip-hop at its very best.

12. TITUS ANDRONICUS – The Monitor
Titus Andronicus are essentially an old school punk rock band, except their songs can go on for anywhere between two and fifteen minutes and their lyrics are less political rallying cries and more a sea of self-dissatisfaction and odes to drinking, all related in varying degrees to the concept of the American civil war. With the charming quality of sounding like it was recorded whilst the entire band were rather drunk and proud of the fact, “The Monitor” takes a couple of listens to get used to but when it hits home it is difficult not to like. This is far from being a groundbreaking record but it’s a record that clearly means something to its creators and it will mean a hell of a lot to many fans as well.

11. SHINING – Blackjazz
The combination of jazz and extreme metal may not immediately leap to mind as something that should work but work it does and Norwegian loons Shining are determined to prove it to everybody. The shrill sax of Jorgen Munkenby alongside devilishly heavy, occasionally painful riffs and growls is something that really has to be heard to be believed and, although it should come with a health warning of some description, “Blackjazz” is one of the finest pieces of musical art for many years.

10. THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN – Option Paralysis
Whilst some would have you believe that “Option Paralysis” sees DEP going all soft in actual fact they have produced a record more complete in its aural devastation than any of their previous efforts. Yes, there are soaring clean vocals (Patton-esque of course) and even soothing piano (see “Widower”) buried in amongst the band’s trademark twisting mathcore but this album still has more than its fair share of ear shredding brutality as well, with the increased free jazz influences present on this record turning it into something utterly inhuman in its precision. In fact, “Option Paralysis” is the record that will enshrine DEP’s position as one of the landmark metal bands of an era.

Kristian Matsson is the folk singer of the 21st century thus far. His beautiful hymns to the natural world, love and hope are reminiscent of Bob Dylan at his absolute finest. In fact the Swede is well on the way to becoming one of the most notable folk artists not just of a generation but of musical history. From the bouncy opening title track to the sombre, piano led closer “Kids On The Run”, this is truly sublime.

8. ANATHEMA – We’re Here Because We’re Here
Anathema released “A Natural Disaster” in 2003 and then took seven years to record and release the follow up. When a band takes that long over a new record there are two obvious possibilities. The first, and perhaps most likely, is that the band has lost what made them a good band and has struggled to come up with any new material. On the other hand the band could just have been taking their time in order to create a masterpiece. “We’re Here Because We’re Here” is probably not quite a masterpiece, but it comes pretty damn close. Anathema are at the top of their game with rock songs that are artistically cultured as well as frequently anthemic, with the brilliant “A Simple Mistake” being possibly the best song the band has ever written.

7. DEFTONES – Diamond Eyes
It has been a traumatic couple of years for Deftones without bassist Chi Cheng. Yet somehow 2010 has seen them deliver what is unquestionably their best release since “White Pony”. An incredible collection of metal that is both headbanging good fun, and full of artistic merit, “Diamond Eyes” is a record without filler and the likes of “Rocket Skates” and “CMND/CNTRL” are already Deftones classics. Some may have questioned whether this band was still relevant but perhaps they are more relevant than ever they were. This is a stunning reinvigoration of a band still missing a brother.

6. SWANS – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
When it was announced that Michael Gira was going to make a new Swans album the reaction from the world of experimental music was one of great excitement. The reaction from everyone else was non-existent. One of the truly great rule defying bands in the history of rock, Swans have veered from crushing noise (they were notoriously so heavy live as to cause some punters to throw up) to creepy melodies alongside frequently bizarre song structures, not to mention disturbing lyrics. While “My Father...” is one of Swans’ quieter works musically, it is full of Gira’s surrealist imagery and carries the same haunting atmosphere as the band’s previous works from a decade or so ago. This is a quite phenomenal return.

There are some bands that seem to specialise in making music more emotive and powerful than any other art form. Crippled Black Phoenix is such a band. With “I, Vigilante” they have created a record that is, from first minute to last, a statement of the power of music. Despite the broad selection of styles on display, the band are able to blend everything together into something that is simultaneously tear and smile inducing, a rare gift. Whether it’s the soaring melodies of opener “Troublemaker” or the epic guitar soloing on a fabulous cover of Journey’s “Of A Lifetime”, CBP are near perfection.

4. OCEANSIZE – Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up
Oceansize should be one of the biggest bands in the world because they are certainly one of the best. With their fourth album the band strip things back a bit and craft songs that are restrained rather than overtly long (nothing stretches past the ten minute mark) and ‘proggy’. They also take themselves to new places, whether these places are heavier (the sludgetastic opener “Part Cardiac”) or more simplistic (the delicately sparse “Ransoms”) than where the band have previously trodden. What this record makes perfectly clear is that Oceansize are brilliant at writing songs as well as pure works of art and with this album they have made this clearer than ever before, even though it should never have been in doubt. SPWTBFU is another definitive statement of skill and intent from an act that the UK should hold up as true homegrown musical heroes.

3. DEVIL SOLD HIS SOUL – Blessed & Cursed
British metal hasn’t had too much to shout about in recent years. Bands like Devil Sold His Soul are changing all that. Their expansive post-metal sound was only partially formed on 2007’s “A Fragile Hope” but on “Blessed & Cursed” the London sextet have created a sound that is as definitive as it is heavy...and, believe me, it is pretty damn heavy. The band have clearly come a long way, especially singer Ed Gibbs, whose clean vocals are now on par with his throat shredding growls. This is one of the few metal releases of the last few years that can genuinely be considered something of a classic and DSHS are a band that deserve the acclaim that this release has given them.

2. THE XCERTS – Scatterbrain
The Xcerts are the best young band in Britain today. With “Scatterbrain” they have proved that their debut “In the Cold Wind We Smile” only hinted at the brilliance that the Aberdeen/Brighton trio could achieve. Frontman Murray Macleod has proven himself one of the best songwriters around with the likes of “Distant Memory”, “Hurt With Me” and the Brand New-esque “He Sinks. He Sleeps”. A short record dominated by clattering guitars, bass and drums; this is perhaps more Nirvana than anything else. There is no room for anything other than what is necessary and, as Macleod’s painful screams testify, what is truly meaningful. There is no filler just anthems juxtaposed with oft-disturbing imagery and an air that is more than slightly mournful in tone. The Xcerts are more than just another band with promise; they are already a great band that the UK should be proud of.

1. THE NATIONAL – High Violet
There was much discussion before this record was released as to whether The National could release another album as brilliant as 2005’s “Alligator” and 2007’s “Boxer”. The general consensus seemed to be that it was most likely that the band would produce something good but not up to the greatness of its predecessors. Such talk was nonsense. With “High Violet” The National have not merely matched previous works but surpassed them. From the opening moments of “Terrible Love” to the closing chords of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”, this is a record of absolute perfection. In Matt Berninger, The National has one of the finest and most unique lyricists and vocalists of a generation, and surrounding his tortured tales of life and love is soaring, yet confined, musical bliss. The National is not a band to allow musical experimentalism to overtake songwriting and when they produce an album of songs as good as this it is easy to see why. Not just the best album of 2010 but one of the best albums of all time.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Mashiri presents "Raw Girth"

MASHIRI – Raw Girth

Blessed with the greatest band name in history, St. Albans trio Mashiri burst out of the blocks with their debut release, ‘Raw Girth’.

‘Banter’ is a fun start to Mashiri’s catalogue. Yes it is a pretty blatant rip-off of ‘Sleep Now in the Fire’ (Dan Edwin’s vocal delivery in parts is pretty much exactly the same, if lacking some of Zach De La Rocha’s trademark ferocity) but it is a good song with lyrics that tread the line between being plain silly and just having a humorous side well. The instrumental work is solid if unspectacular with the sludgy lower register adds an enjoyable raw dynamic to the mix.

‘I Never Noticed’ is a different kind of song. Its near six minute duration is entirely composed of simple instrumentation, often carried by the bassline over tranquil acoustic guitar and pleading vocals. It’s a nice song but perhaps a little out of place alongside the more rocking ‘Banter’, meaning that it is hard to tell exactly what Mashiri want to be from this debut release. Despite this however, Mashiri have produced what can certainly be considered a very enjoyable debut. Bring on the next release!


Mashiri are:
Hugo Beardsall – Drums
Joe Clapham – Bass
Dan Edwin – Vocals & Guitar
Mark Goodfellow – Guitar

Monday, 4 October 2010

Dark Tranquillity - London Camden Underworld - Tuesday 28th September 2010

As one of the founders of the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene in the early nineties one would expect Dark Tranquillity to be either gone by now (like At The Gates) or producing rafts of substandard material (like In Flames). Instead they are doing neither. Dark Tranquillity are the true kings of melodeath yet have never gained as much recognition as their peers. It is hard to understand why this is the case. Yes, At The Gates produced the masterpiece that is ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ and yes, In Flames pumped out the likes of ‘Whoracle’ and ‘Clayman’, but Dark Tranquillity gave us ‘The Gallery’, a record that trumps its competitors without question. Then, over a decade later, in 2007, they gave us the classic that is ‘Fiction’ whilst In Flames gave us the occasionally embarrassing ‘A Sense of Purpose’ and At The Gates reformed for a brief summer of reunion shows. Yet the band doesn’t seem to have any problems with its lot. They still tour as much as ever and reward their dedicated fanbase with passionate performances night after night. This show at the Underworld is the only UK show of the band’s ‘Where Death Is Most Alive, Part 2’ tour and is therefore heaving with metalheads. As if the band needed any help to put on a spectacular show, they’ve brought Finnish quartet Insomnium with them as support.

Undoubtedly a band to have taken great influence from Dark Tranquillity over the years, but also one with a slightly more progressive edge to their songwriting, Insomnium take to the stage to an already packed venue. Many of the crowd are clearly big fans of the band and so it doesn’t take long for the likes of ‘Where the Last Wave Broke’ to get a singalong going. Their set reaches fever pitch with ‘Weather the Storm’ when the band announce that they are filming the song for an upcoming music video and none other than Dark Tranquillity frontman Mikael Stanne joins the band on stage. Despite the crushing riffs and epic atmosphere Insomnium aren’t quite as good live as they should be. They are good but without ever reaching the triumphant level that the whole set feels as if it is building up towards and they are therefore a little disappointing.

Dark Tranquillity are anything but disappointing. Despite opening their set with the strange choice of ‘At the Point of Ignition’, a song off their newest album that hardly offers the punch in the gut that much of their back catalogue could bring to the table, and having technical problems that result in a five minute pause early on, the band rip through a set featuring most of their classics alongside fan favourites and the best of their new material. What stands out most of all is the quality of the songs; this is a metal band with melodies that worm their way inside your head so that by the last chorus of a Dark Tranquillity song you’ve never heard before you can scream your lungs out alongside the devoted. There are plenty of the devoted in situ tonight, made obvious by the fact that even newer songs such as ‘The Fatalist’ get loud singalongs. The best crowd reactions during the main set come during the towering anthem that is ‘Lost to Apathy’ and old classic ‘Punish My Heaven’, both of which get treated like the hit singles they would undoubtedly have been if metal ruled the mainstream music charts. It would be wrong, however, to get the impression that Dark Tranquillity rely on playing show after show to hardcore fans. This is a band that is brilliant at what it does. Mikael Stanne is an excellent frontman, making each and every audience member feel involved and repeatedly clasping the hands of the swarming front rows. The rest of the band don’t put much of a foot wrong and all seem genuinely pleased to be on stage and not at all frustrated with the lot of still playing small clubs in the UK twenty years into their career. Before closing the encore with a thundering ‘Terminus (Where Death is Most Alive)’ Stanne thanks the crowd warmly and promises to return to the UK again next year; hopefully for a proper tour rather than an isolated show in the capital. Although the band promise to stay around to sign autographs and pose for pictures, security puts an end to such a possibility and so the night ends with the conclusion of the set, one that is about as superb as the melodeath legends could have possibly produced. The only real criticism that could be levelled at the band is that they arguably chose the wrong songs to play from their new record (the superb ‘Arkhangelsk’ is noticeably absent) and that one or two genuine classics (‘Therein’ being the obvious example) are also missing. When a band plays as well as this however, and when the atmosphere is as fervent as well, then it doesn’t matter one jot; a fabulous evening of metal.

Insomnium – 6/10
Dark Tranquillity – 10/10

Insomnium setlist
Down with the Sun
Where the Last Wave Broke
Drawn to Black
Weather the Storm (ft. Mikael Stanne)
The Harrowing Years
The Gale
Mortal Share
The Killjoy
Weighed Down With Sorrow

Dark Tranquillity setlist
At the Point of Ignition
The Fatalist
Damage Done
Lost To Apathy
Monochromatic Stains
The Gallery
One Thought
The Wonders at Your Feet
Shadow in Our Blood
Dream Oblivion
Misery’s Crown
Punish My Heaven
Final Resistance
The Sun Fired Blanks
Terminus (Where Death is Most Alive)

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Winter Tradition - Edinburgh Sneaky Pete's - Saturday 4th September 2010

Sneaky Pete’s is one of those music venues that, when you first enter, you wonder what possessed anyone to turn it into such a venue in the first place. This isn’t to say it’s a bad little place just that it is very little. People who think that anything less than a 1000 capacity counts as intimate need to see this place; which I struggle to believe can hold many more than 100.

Despite being very small the place is nearer empty than full when opening band Your Neighbour The Liar take to the stage. The quartet get through six or seven decent songs with ‘Circus’ being probably the pick of the bunch. They seem to take strongly to the school of interspersing melodic post-rock guitar picking with occasional bursts of distorted riffage. However the strength of their songwriting as yet means that whenever they choose to burst into heaviness it is not the least bit surprising. Indeed most of the material they showcase is pretty samey; it is especially noticeable that all of the first three songs they play feature the band choosing to sing away from their microphones to create the ‘distant group vocals’ effect used to better advantage in recent times by contemporaries such as The Xcerts. The band’s use of handclapping also comes across as being a little weird; there’s never a reason why a drummer should be sitting behind his kit clapping instead of actually playing. Overall not a bad performance and there is potential in the band that may well be realised in the near future.

From what I know about the band, Glasgow’s Lightguides should probably be headlining this gig. The trio’s beguilingly mathy time signatures echo the likes of This Town Needs Guns and Adebisi Shank while they still retain a certain sing-along element reminiscent of their fellow Glaswegians in Twin Atlantic; for whom they were ‘secret support’ at a huge gig at Glasgow’s ABC a while back. The lack of bass player is far from something holding them back; in fact it frees up room for impressive guitar and, especially, drum work. Aside from the obvious quality of their music Lightguides are great to watch and the fact they have a fan who has come all the way from Essex to see them play speaks volumes. Despite the fact that they seem to accidentally knock over pretty much everything they can whilst on stage (the drummer’s mic in particular doesn’t want to hold up) they still play a blinder of a set. This is a band that should be a lot bigger than they are and, judging by the reaction of the crowd during their set, they are the band with the largest share of fans present; this is made especially noticeable by the fact that the band remain on stage for longer than originally planned with a rendition of ‘Midget Gem’ following chants of “one more song” in the Edinburgh venue.

All this makes the task of recently renamed The Winter Tradition more difficult than it needs to be. Having recently changed their name from The Void, the band are promoting the release of a new single, ‘Firelight’. Despite being a local act the band attracted a meagre audience of around 12 people to an acoustic instore session the day before this gig but thankfully more people have turned up tonight. Whilst their set is packed with punchy choruses aplenty there is little that makes the band stand out in the same way as so many Scottish acts nowadays. Soundwise they are a little like a halfway point between Twin Atlantic and The Twilight Sad. The band don’t get much of a reaction when they first come on stage but by the time ‘Firelight’ and ‘Game of Ghosts’ have rounded off their set everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Lightguides still should have headlined though.

Your Neighbour The Liar – 5/10
Lightguides – 8/10
The Winter Tradition – 6/10

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

People In Planes - London Upstairs @ Highbury Garage - Friday 6th August 2010

People In Planes have had a somewhat topsy-turvy career to say the least. The Welsh rockers started out as Robots In The Sky but after a number of other bands decided to act like pricks and complain that PiP couldn't have this name because it was too similar to their band's name they had to change that to Tetra Splendour. Tetra Splendour signed to EMI sub-label Wishakismo and released debut 'Splendid Animation' which received plenty of attention for having "meandering jazzy nonsense" in it and generally sounding a bit like Radiohead. Nevertheless they were let back into the studio by EMI but then they suddenly got dropped by the label after management changes (it's all going a bit Hundred Reasons now isn't it?). Then the band recorded new material with new keyboard player Ian Russell and decided to change their name again (you'll have to ask them) to People In Planes. They had a music video directed by Joaquin Phoenix and basically moved to the USA for a little while as they were signed to Wind-Up records over there. They last released new material in 2008 with 'Beyond the Horizon'. Now though they're on the comeback trail with plenty of new stuff to play on a short run of UK dates, including this one in the tiny little venue above the Highbury Garage.

Before the pleasure of hearing new PiP material is a set by fellow Welshmen The Undivided. Whilst the band are far from a bad band there is little to set them apart from a great many other indie/alt bands trailing around the scene at the moment. Their set is also spoiled a little by the fact that the vocals are scarcely audible much of the time (partly due to poor sound and partly due to lots of people talking over them). A rather uninspiring half hour support slot. People In Planes however are on great form. Despite their set being composed more of new material than old, they keep the crowd attentive and interested. New material is not a great departure from their 'classics' with the possible acception of 'Fade Away' which sees frontman Gareth Jones adopting a near croon at the piano. The best received songs are, unsurprisingly, the ones from 'Beyond the Horizon' which seems to be the audience's album of choice. 'Pretty Buildings' and 'Vampire' especially are greeted like long lost friends. The band are as tight as ever in the live arena with Pete Roberts guitar dominating proceedings much of the time. The only near disruption to the set comes from a projector screen that is lowered by someone or other at the venue behind the band only to get caught on something on its way down, a journey which it never completes. By the time it is taken back up again the band are returning to the stage for an unscheduled encore of 'Fire' after the crowd refuses to leave without one, always a good sign. It would take more listens to really judge the band's new songs but if they are as good on record as on first live listen then there is really nothing to worry about.

The Undivided - 6/10
People In Planes - 8/10

People In Planes setlist

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Sonisphere Festival 2010 - Knebworth Park - 30th-31st July & 1st August 2010

Sonisphere 2010 arrives and it’s not a moment too soon. The weather is near perfect and Knebworth is ready for a weekend of top class rock, set to be rounded off, of course, by returning metal titans Iron Maiden. Before then however, is an elongated Sonisphere, this year starting as it does on Friday night rather than Saturday morning.

Sonisphere ’10 starts off for me with American retro progsters Bigelf (7/10) whose Sabbath heavy riffs, coexisting alongside keyboard and organ flourishes, make the newly arrived Knebworth crowd immediately feel at home in the Bohemia tent. A nice dose of fun, simple rock n’ roll to start off the weekend. Over on the Saturn stage, 80s rockers Europe (7/10) spend their set with a crowd who are, predominantly speaking, just waiting for them to play that song. This is rather harsh on the Swedes however as their set is full of solid, if not overly spectacular, hard rock anthems. ‘Rock the Night’ even features a special tribute to the recently deceased legend of Ronnie James Dio, with the band performing a few bars of ‘Heaven and Hell’ in the middle of the song. They end, predictably enough, with ‘The Final Countdown’, prompting a general feeling of good will amongst all Sonisphere goers present. Over on the Jagermeister stage industrial metal quartet October File (8/10) blast through a blistering set that is all steel coated riffs and bowel shaking bass underneath deliciously harsh vocals. Sadly they’re only onstage for 25 minutes, but it’s an impressive 25 minutes at that. Over at the Bowtime Bar are Northern Ireland’s finest in the shape of And So I Watch You From Afar (9/10). Energetic as always, and proving that vocals are not at all necessary for exciting music in any way, the quartet are helped by excellent clarity of sound but not by the fact that they have to squeeze into a mere half an hour set which is something of a travesty. Back with the Jagermeister stage, stoner duo Winnebago Deal (7/10) don’t seem to care that nobody watching them can hear the vocals as they set about pummelling their instruments into oblivion. There lack of subtlety would be a little tiring over a longer period of time I’d imagine but, for half an hour, they are more than satisfying. Annoyingly Karma To Burn have been scheduled for exactly the same time as one of my favourite bands, 65daysofstatic (10/10), so I miss out on them but am more than amply rewarded with a fine 65dos set. The band are the only ones at Sonisphere capable of rocking hard (‘Retreat! Retreat!’), raving equally hard (‘Tiger Girl’) and making hairs on the back of necks stand up (the always glorious ‘Radio Protector’). As they are only sub-headlining Bohemia, they depart after a 40 minute set but a perfect 40 minute set at that. Friday ends for me at this juncture and I leave to the strains of Alice Cooper’s set ending on the Saturn stage.

Saturday sees me make my first trip of the weekend to the Red Bull Bedroom Jam Tent, where young, up and coming bands are given a chance to shine. Stand Up Guy (9/10) may not be particularly young but, if anyone who listens to music nowadays has any sense, they’re very much up and coming. Their dense post-metal features a mix of harsh and clean vocals to great sonic effect. The only slight criticism to be made comes from the keyboard, which is apparently superfluous to the mix throughout much of their set; although that may very well be the result of less than satisfactory sound rather than their own fault. A very impressive set by them is followed by blues rockers the Tom Hollister Trio (6/10) on the Jagermeister stage. With songs often dominated by a virtuoso guitarist, they aren’t as far outside the Sonisphere blueprint as one might think but they still provide more of an opportunity to sit in the sun and relax than anything else. Security obviously doesn’t think this is the case as the trio start their set with no more than twelve stewards lined up in front of the stage. They are soon joined by another five stewards to total seventeen. To be fair, the guy in the wheelchair near the front of the stage looked like he could have been about to cause some serious trouble. Cars on Fire (9/10) rip up the Bowtime tent. Many of the medium sized crowd seem to be looking for a softer side of Sonisphere during their set but hopes of that are immediately ruined when frontman Ali Ross jumps from stage to crowd within a minute of the band coming on stage, proceeding to scream out his lyrics in the faces of various crowd members. This is just the first of many Ross trips into the crowd during their half hour set which showcases an exciting band with more than a little of Reuben at their heaviest about them. Being able to end with a double header of ‘Sharks’ and ‘Burn the Suits’ is something few bands without an album even out yet can manage. A great set by the Bristolians; all those people watching Soulfly on the main stages missed out. Anthrax (9/10) were one of the highlights of Sonisphere 2009 with their crowd pleasing set led by vocalist John Bush. It became clear soon afterward however that Bush, although only having just returned to the band after a lengthy absence, was not interested in a long term return to the ‘thrax. Thus Joey Belladonna has returned after an even lengthier absence to front the band once more. Any doubters are silenced by another assured set, even if it once again dominated by the hits. Any band that can call on ‘Caught in a Mosh’ to open things up has an immediate advantage and that, along with the likes of ‘Antisocial’ and ‘Indians’, are rapturously received by the thrash hungry crowd. The band also play an excerpt of ‘Heaven and Hell’ during their set as a dedication to Dio, with Belladonna having been a close friend of the great man. Closing with ‘I am the Law’ and a promise from Scott Ian to deliver a new album (at last) in the near future. Anthrax are once again a highlight of Sonisphere Knebworth. Fear Factory (10/10) are better than they have ever been these days. With the legal wrangling over the band’s name seemingly finally at an end and with a now apparently settled line-up featuring, most importantly, vocalist Burton C. Bell and guitarist Dino Cazeres, the industrial metal quartet are in the form of their lives. From the moment their set starts with the brilliant title track from their newest album, ‘Mechanize’, the band are on a roll and even a temporary shutdown of the guitar and bass rigs doesn’t detract from a top quality set. The band wheel out their greatest moments alongside highlights of the new record and receive rapt attention from a crowd that is a mix between those who are big fans of the band and those who have only heard about them. Although seeing them here on the Saturn stage isn’t quite the same as seeing them in the confines of the surprisingly small venues they still play when touring in the UK this is still the set of the weekend thus far. Ending with a fist pumping rendition of ‘Replica’, the band leave the stage with Bell telling the crowd, in his best Terminator voice, “We will be back”. Let’s hope it’s quite soon. Due to some ridiculous scheduling, Katatonia (8/10) are halfway through their set by the time I get to the Bohemia tent in order to see them. Who thought it was a good idea to put two of the most metal bands of the weekend on at the same time as each other? Still it’s good to catch the second half of their set including excellent renditions of ‘Forsaker’ and ‘Leaders’. It’s equally good to see this band being given a festival slot here in the UK as all too often the riches of the Scandinavian metal scene, despite being so close, are totally ignored by festival organisers. The second half of Rinoa (8/10)’s set is impressive as well. Their epic post-hardcore sound may look totally at odds with the five band members on stage but it sounds brilliant. They are a band with great things ahead of them. Audrey Horne (8/10) aren’t what you’d really expect of a Norwegian band as they are more good time hard rock than darkest metal. An enjoyable set by the band is well received by a sizeable Jagermeister fuelled crowd. Apocalyptica (5/10) are really boring live. Why they are higher on the bill than Anthrax and Fear Factory is a source of utter puzzlement for me. Surely we’re all over that ‘cello metal’ thing nowadays anyway! They aren’t bad, just dull. Saturday ends with just a part of their set for me as I’m off to see Biffy for the evening’s entertainment instead of staying at Knebworth for Rammstein!

Sunday begins with Ian Kenny telling Knebworth that Karnivool (9/10) are “your motherfucking breakfast man!” as they open the main stages for the day with their rumbling alt-prog-metal. It’s an impressive set that will surely win the band new additions to their growing legion of UK fans. It shows off both the organised chaos they can provide (‘Set Fire to the Hive’), the melodic anthems (‘All I Know’) and the slow-building epics (‘New Day’). Although opening Apollo will no doubt have been good for the band it is a shame that they weren’t able to have a longer set elsewhere as, for all their Aussie brilliance, half an hour isn’t really enough for them to show their absolute best. I still maintain that they are one of the best bands in the world at the moment, no matter what certain Damnation Festival organisers may think! Sadly having to get to Knebworth early for the ‘Vool means I have to sit through the less exciting part of Sunday’s bill. Slam Cartel (5/10) are dull and unimaginative. Sacred Betrayal (2/10) are bad enough to fall into the category of bands that should stop doing shows in case they lose the day jobs that surely must suit them far better. American indie rockers Firebug (5/10) are somewhat plodding and also have the disadvantage of a frontwoman who tells the audience “As you may have heard it’s been very hard in our country recently”. No shit, I thought the USA’s incredibly reliable OTT capitalist system was exempt from the financial crisis. “I know it’s bad over here as well but in America it’s really bad”. Yeah, I hear it’s practically the third world out there these days. Political banter is inadvisable onstage if you do not know what you are talking about. Allies (6/10) are a bit like a more relaxed Pearl Jam and start off their set well but one could be forgiven for thinking that nearly all their songs are musically exactly the same. Last year Sonisphere had Abba tribute Bjorn Again. This year it’s The Fab Beatles (3/10) whom, you may have guessed, are a Beatles tribute. Sadly they aren’t a good Beatles tribute. The accents change every time they open their mouths and they don’t even seem to be especially adept at playing the songs right; this is really quite important if you are going to have a tribute band. Not good, maybe this strangle slot can be abandoned for next year? Unless they can persuade Rolf Harris to play of course. Rise to Remain (7/10) attract a very large crowd in Bohemia for their set. Led by Austin Dickinson (yes, the son of that Dickinson) their brand of metalcore is equally heavy and melodic and, although it would be easy to cynically claim their quick rise in profile is down to the Dickinson connection, they really are a darn site better than most of the bands that clog up the genre. The end of their set is missed by some who instead head off to Apollo to see Skindred (8/10) play to by far the largest crowd they have played to yet in their career. The Welsh ragga-metal quartet arrive on stage resplendent in shiny silver suits and with frontman Benji Webbe waving a gigantic Union Jack. Whilst they are an excellent live act, and surprisingly good on such a huge stage, the problem with Skindred is the same as always. The songs, whilst fun, simply are not good enough to realistically claim the band are as amazing as some often say they are. It’s still a great set though and ‘Nobody’ is becoming the ultimate Sonisphere anthem. After the Ordeal (6/10) seem to be one of a number of unspectacular metalcore acts populating the Red Bull tent. Their set is alright, and better than plenty of other similar bands, but the vocalist is clearly struggling to hit the high notes (by his own admission) and there is little to suggest that they are anything particularly special. Slayer (9/10) are Slayer. Therefore seeing them is pretty thrashing awesome. Although Tom Araya is unusually static, as a result of his recent neck problems, their set is full of the high speed, high octane metal that made them famous and none of the dodgy slush they produced in their dodgy period. Drummer Dave Lombardo is a joy to watch whilst the duo of Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King shred away like there is no tomorrow in front of their huge wall of amps. The only problem is that the band only have 45 minutes to play. This if Slayer FFS! They should be playing for at least an hour and anything less is something of a travesty at a supposed metal festival. Perhaps it was fate that gave Slayer such a short set however as it enables me to amble across to the Bowtime tent and witness Kvelertak (10/10). These Norwegians don’t really need to be classified, they are Kvelertak and that is all you need to know. If you are desperate to gain an impression of their sound then think hardcore with black metal vocals and occasional bouts of jazz drumming. The band spend their set careering around the stage at 200mph yet rarely bump into one another and never miss the opportunity to scream the lyrics (refreshingly in their native language) in the direction of the audience. They make Slayer sound like Snow Patrol and they are, without a doubt, the best band of the weekend. You NEED to hear and see this band. After them Alice in Chains (8/10) sound, understandably, a little uninteresting. Perhaps it is the fact that last year they were on a smaller stage and had a much smaller crowd but their Sonisphere 2010 just isn’t as good as their one of the previous year. The energy levels are certainly lower and there isn’t the same special atmosphere. Therefore, after the opening 20 minutes of their set I head across to the Red Bull tent to catch a set by Welwyn hardcore ‘legends’ Heights (7/10). They play to a fairly small crowd but put their all into it. Whilst I still think their debut EP is the best debut release I’ve heard by a band for many, many years I also think their live show needs to become a little more exciting. The nerves are a little obvious and, for what is practically a homecoming show, there is a slightly worrying seeming desire to get through the set as quickly as possible and get off as stage as quickly as possible. Vocalist Thom Debaere spends most of the set running backwards and forwards along the stage and, while the performance levels are admirable, there isn’t much energy apparent on stage. They will be a great live act in years to come I’m sure but they aren’t quite there yet. Converge (8/10) are much more like the finished article. Their frenetic technical hardcore isn’t everything live I hoped that it would be but it is still enough to make your neck feel like it’s about to fall off after a time. Perhaps the best thing about their set is the sudden rush to crowd surf that they provoke, contributing to the petrified faces of the stewards at the front of the stage. Much of the crowd are also petrified as many are only at the front to wait for Bohemia headliners Funeral for a Friend. Nobody told them they’d have to see one of the most panic attack inducing bands on the planet first! Over on the Jagermeister stage Irish hard rockers Sweet Savage (3/10) arrive to the general indifference of a medium sized crowd. They are at least as old as Maiden but with not as much songwriting talent. Their opener nearly sends me to sleep despite being less than four minutes long. To be honest, if a band has reached their age without getting further than an early evening slot on the smallest outdoor stage at a festival then perhaps it is time to give up. They really aren’t that good, after all. Fightstar (6/10) clearly want to be Muse, judging by the overdramatic tape that goes over the PA before they come on. When they finally do arrive on stage it seems that they forgot to sound check properly as Charlie Simpson’s vocals aren’t exactly clear in the mix. Although I’ve heard the band are good live they are a bit underwhelming in the flesh. The Xcerts (9/10) are never underwhelming. They are not only three guys who are clearly playing the music they love but they are infectiously unassuming, making it extremely difficult not to like them. They need not have worried about their reception in the Bowtime tent. Mass singalongs during ‘Crisis in the Slow Lane’ and ‘Home Versus Home’ prove they have plenty of fans present and frontman Murray Macleod even gets a high five from a guy in a Slayer tee in the front row, to his visible delight. Hopefully new album ‘Scatterbrain’ in October will earn them the chance to play in front of bigger crowds on bigger stages at festivals. Not too big though, because it’s great to turn up three minutes before they come on and walk straight to the front of the stage. The Xcerts aren’t destined to produce great things; they’re producing great things already. Slaves to Gravity (7/10) are finally on the verge of releasing a new album and headline the Jagermeister stage for the day. Although a good band listening to them still makes one think about how good they could be but aren’t, quite. Bohemia headliners Funeral for a Friend (8/10) are playing their final show with guitarist Darran Smith (see a couple of weeks back on my blog for a review of their last headlining show with him). Thus a crowd pleasing set is called for and delivered with ‘Roses for the dead’, ‘Juneau’ and ‘Into Oblivion (Reunion)’ following one another in close pursuit. I leave halfway through their set though in order to grab a good place for Maiden. This enables a short portion of Iggy and the Stooges (7/10)’s set to be visible. The guy has still got something, what it is however is still unclear after all these years. The crowd down the front seem to be having a pretty good time as does Iggy himself. Many have been waiting all weekend for Iron Maiden (10/10) to play their only UK show of 2010. With new album ‘The Final Frontier’ to promote the band choose to play a set that mainly focuses on material from the last decade with choice cuts from ‘Brave New World’ being particularly impressive. Although some in the crowd may not be familiar with such material they are fools if they don’t appreciate the majesty of the six musicians on stage. Drummer Nicko McBrain is still one of the best in the game and the duelling guitars of Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers are solotastic while Steve Harris’ bass still gallops along and holds the whole thing together. Bruce has still got a pretty good voice as well, now one thinks about it! In short Maiden are as good live today as ever, despite their ever advancing years. They are a band that fully deserves the legendary status they have been given and the lack of classics doesn’t detract from the top quality of their set. If anything it just makes the encore of ‘The Number of the Beast’, ‘Hallowed be thy Name’ and ‘Running Free’ all the more impressive and enjoyable. Maiden are a pleasure to behold and there aren’t many better bands to headline a festival. Hopefully Bruce wasn’t joking when he said they may have to come and play Sonisphere again sometime! A brilliant end to a brilliant weekend at Knebworth.