Saturday, 12 September 2015

Powerwolf - Live at the Islington Academy

My attendance for this gig was undeniable barring a broken leg or a heart attack or even death. I think even the first two wouldn't have stopped me coming to this gig though I might be struggling if the latter occurred!

I actually bought my ticket a good three months or so in advance. I didn't want to tempt fate in case it was sold out. The big Wolfie ones from Germany had previously packed out the Underworld but this time an upgrade was in order to the larger 800 capacity room of the Islington Academy. A much bigger stage to see my favourite power metal band in the world today. It used to be Sabaton but I think I like  da 'wolf even more now though of course it's a close thing no doubt. On the mainland Civil War plays as the opener but alas they did not travel to the London date so we had Xandria and Orden Ogan as main support.

The queue outside the venue was quite large and I would guess the final attendance to be not far off capacity although the place wasn't heaving by any means. It was packed but comfortable. When Sonata Arctica played the same venue a few months ago it was anything but and similarly for Night Ranger. For Powerwolf haven't quite reached those levels of fandom in the UK but nevertheless the crowd was very respectable already as Xandria took to the stage at 7pm sharp. Their singer Diane is a delight both vocally and visually and she sang her heart out. They have a new ep from which they played a couple of songs such as Voyage of the Fallen and Unembraced. I actually would have liked to hear their version of Meat Loaf's I Would Do Anything For Love but it wasn't to be. They sounded wonderful with Diane's awesome quasi operatic vocals cutting through the ix beautifully sharp and clear. They played around 40 minutes which is not bad for openers and they got a great response from the fans. Last time I saw them they headlined their own show but they were just as comfortable supporting but I'm sure they'll be back to do a headlining show sooner or later. Great start!

Just before 8pm the German power metal crew Orden Ogan took their positions in full battle armour and with big smiles on their faces. The singer "Seeb" was in fine form both vocally and flexed his muscles guitar-wise as well. The guy has a few one liners up his sleeve as well with in between song banter. The band got massive participation with their catchier tunes. My particular fave Sorrow Is Your Tale got an airing of course with it's awesome chorus ringing out true and clear. Their set went by in a literal flash and ended with the title track of the previous album To The End. The first time I saw these guys they supported Luca Turilli's Rhapsody and they stole the night. This time the surprise element from their show was reduced and I felt it wasn't quite their night although they are more or less a perfect choice as support for Powerwolf. Their newest album is amazing though and live they sound very good with Seeb's vocals in particular sounding very clear indeed.

Well support bands are just that in the end, a warm up for the main act, and in this particular bill, the other two bands were just playing second fiddle to the mighty blood obsessed ones from Germany. At around 9.15pm or so they took their positions on stage and dove headlong into headbanging new opener Blessed and Possessed. They immediately locked into that famous Powerwolf style of dramatic verses and huge choruses that they do so well. Atilla sounded amazing from the word go with a huge vocal mix. As usual Powerwolf play with no live bass which is actually a pretty cool thing as it makes the sound much clearer and sharper. In fact the sound was almost too perfect to be true. The Greywolf brothers were in fine form and as usual gurning and grimacing their way through the songs and pulling shaped and faces galore.

The stage was set up with two keyboards, one on each side of the stage, allowing organist and band cheerleader Falk Maria Schlegel to switch from side to side between the songs whilst coming to stage front on a regular basis to whip up the crowd as if they needed whipping up. The guy is a real enthusiast and really something else to watch as he gets the crowd to do the oohhhhs and aaaahhhhs and the singing along parts. Powerwolf shows are a real experience of dramatic lighting and awesome stage presence with full crowd participation. At times they really look and sound like they are summoning up some arcane Wolf Gods and calling them out for a night of bloodlust!

A little more on the setlist which is where my only point of criticism can come in. They missed a couple of my fave songs and most importantly of all the amazing We Are The Wild from the latest CD was sadly omitted. Of the other songs played one could hardly complain but I would have preferred a few more tracks from Bible of the Beast but alas they could only play a near enough 90 minute set but a three hour Powerwolf show would have been better to fit in all their great tunes.

Resurrection by Erection is an absolute riot of a hilarious tune and never fails to get the fists pumping. The crowd were hugely loud as expected and singing the choruses back at Atilla as loud as all hell. Dead Boys Don't Cry was another hell for leather riot. We Drink Your Blood never fails with literally everyone singing the chorus.

The encore started with the awesome Sanctified with Dynamite followed by the anthemic and slow burning Kreuzfeuer. I wasn't expecting them to play that one but that is an amazing track with the band bathed in dark and purple light it look like a scene from some medieval film as they played the song through. The night ended with a rousing, crowd pleasing All We Need is Blood with Atilla and Falk Maria again at stage front leading the frenzied crowd which even saw a small moshpit start up. Not really necessary but what the hell it was the last song of a riotous set.

The Greywolf brothers left and the last to leave were of course Atilla and Falk Maria who were both singing the lyrics to the song Wolves Against The World as it played out over the PA system. It was cool of them to stay long and milked the crowd's applause till the last drop. I pity those people who don't get to see this band live. They really are an amazing sight to be hold and with a set of songs guaranteed to get you singing and head banging along in a nanosecond. Long Live da 'Wolf!

Set list:

Blessed & Possessed
Coleus Sanctus
Amen & Attack
Cardinal Sin
Army of the Night
Resurrection by Erection
Armata Strigoi
Drum Solo
Dead Boys Don't Cry
Werewolves of Armenia
Let There Be Night
In the Name of God (Deus Vult)
We Drink Your Blood
Lupus Dei
Agnus Dei
Sanctified With Dynamite
All We Need Is Blood
Wolves Against the World

Friday, 11 September 2015

Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls - Review

Here it is - my marathon song by song review of the new Iron maiden album. It's an album that will require many full listens to fully absorb its nuances and high and lows. This review is based on three full listens to each song and my impressions as the song plays and afterwards and a rating out of 10 for each song.

If Eternity Should Fail

I've tried hard to get into this song but I just can't really get into it. It has the typical latter day Maiden gallop that old men like Maiden seem to love. Bruce sounds quite good but I just don't think the song is really melodic enough. The chorus doesn't seem to sound that great at all. The repetition is not what bothers me it's more that the melody is a bit boring. The best part of the song is from the five minute mark onwards where a very nice melodic section starts before that average chorus takes us home. The ending speech is quite dramatic and nice though. I wonder who it is? I am gonna keep trying with this song but the fairly slow tempo doesn't excite. It sounds like a Final Frontier b-side to me. 6.5/10

Speed of Light

The lead single which hugely disappointed me on first listen has started to grow on me. I still definitely don't love it but at least it has a little energy. Although the chorus sees Bruce straining quite badly at times  when he sings the word "stars" but I guess the band are happy with that. It  doesn't sound that bad but you can tell he's really trying hard. The sound on the guitars is far too raw on this track and seems even rougher than the other tracks like they accidentally on purpose made this lead single  much rougher sounding. The song has traits of Maiden singles of the past. The little guitar melody that rears it's head fairly often pre-chorus is a nice classic touch. The lead work is fluid and nice but sounds far too raw and under produced. Again done on purpose no doubt. An OK song that's slowly showing more of it's energy and potential though it will never be a world beater. 7/10

The Great Unknown

As usual a quiet start to a latter day Maiden tune and Bruce weaving a web of mystery about the "Great Unknown" as the song saunters on moodily before a slow regular grinding riff builds into the body of the song. The pre-chorus verses see Bruce struggling a bit but the melody is quite cool. The chorus however leaves me struggling quite a bit. The melody is OK but it sounds quite familiar to other recent material and sounds recycled. The solos from the middle of the fourth minute onwards are really rather cool before the song settles back into the moody start. This song needs to grow on me as at the moment I just can't get a feel for it. There's a good song in there somewhere but it's not hitting me in the face as of yet. 7/10

The Red and The Black

Another mid paced latter day Maiden riff. Something like Rime but pretty much but the melody is Celtic in feel that Mr Harris likes to use a lot with Bruce following that melody with his vocal lines. This is a Harris trademark and I actually really like that although again Bruce is singing at pretty much the top of his range. It sounds like a very difficult song to sing indeed. The famous Woooahhhs soon appear and you can tell this song will almost certainly played live. The song continues with Bruce singing in line with the guitar melody whilst the mid paced backing continues behind and the wooahhs return. At the five minute mark a lovely melody appears and takes the song in a more melodic direction and we get the first time the chorus is sung and it's a really cool one indeed. People will be loving this live no doubt. They will be humming and woooahing the parts that don't even have vocal woooahhhs no doubt! The second longest song on the album continues with tasty lead breaks and builds more melodic passages as it reaches it's galloping climax and a final woaahhh section to keep the punters happy. A great and emotionally melodic track and one of Steve Harris's best epics ever! 10/10

When The River Runs Deep

The song starts off quite melodic but then the reasonably energetic verse takes the song in a slightly different direction than you'd expect. Not too bad but not something very catchy either and Bruce shows that familiar strain here and there at the end of some lines. The chorus sort of appears without much fanfare but the last note is nicely stretched out by Bruce. The song has good energy and the album is in need of energy for sure but is this really a good song? I am not so sure. It's ok and has some decent melody in some of the guitar parts but the vocal melody doesn't sound that exciting. The solo passages are what make the song intriguing and melodic to me. Usually I look at the vocal to provide with that melodic twist that makes a song great but in this song it's the other way. A decent song but I need to play it more to see if it catches my ears any more. 7.5/10

The Book of Souls

The title track starts off with an acoustic slightly hispanic guitar melody with a single tone classical melody before a middle eastern sounding slow riff suddenly erupts out of the speakers and Bruce sings very powerfully it must be said. Nice keyboard accompaniment which adds atmosphere and a mystical feel to what is no doubt a mystical subject matter.The chorus is sung pretty slowly but it is indeed a great one with a magical and epic melody. This is one time when a fast chorus would have been out of place with the song's atmospheric build. The song reminds me of Dance of Death material quite a lot. It has that similar melodic feel although it has a flavour of its own as well no doubt. The song goes into the awesome mid section at 5.50 precisely with that great galloping feel reminiscent of 80s energetic Maiden. The solo sounds rather raw that follows before Bruce helps carry the song onwards with an awesome guitar following vocal melody. This song is sure to be a live favourite should they decide to tackle it live. Everyone will love the slow build to the rousing and glorious end. 9.5/10

Death or Glory.

A fairly speedy number with a decent galloping riff and Bruce's impassioned vocals telling a tale of battle and fighting your enemy till the last. A really nice pre-chorus leads to a fairly average chorus unfortunately. I mean it doesn't seem to carry a great melody or anything but it is memorable in the sense that the title is repeated until you get the message but not spine tingling or catchy really. An average number in my book although the music is pretty good but vocally the song doesn't seem to excite at all. A song called Death or Glory exists by Running Wild and it's miles better than this. 6.5/10

Shadows of the Valley

Can the start sound any more like Wasted Years? No, but then when that's over we are left with that familiar jig from recent Maiden albums. This song reminds me of Montsegur from Dance of Death. The chorus comes along and is easily one of the best on the album. In fact this could be the catchiest song on the album. There's some subtle keys in the background which add a nice dramatic feel. Bruce sounds a bit uncomfortable singing "Lies" though. That melodic motif that follows the chorus is really nice indeed and makes the song what it is. The album's best IMO. Should be a huge live favourite especially the awesome woooahhhs at the end. 9.5/10

Tears of a Clown

The song starts off slow and ponderous with heavy chords that somehow remind me of a swaggering Led Zeppelin riff. Not a regular Maiden influence it must be said. The opening verses are plaintive and very reflective of the solemn subject matter. Bruce sings in a comfortable voice and doesn't over reach his powers in this song and sounds all the better for it. The chorus soon arrives and it's quite a good one but it's reminiscent of some material from The Final Frontier or AMOLAD. The solo is slow and bluesy sounding with a raw feel to go with the general live production feel that the band has chosen. A decent song overall but nothing amazing. 7.5/10

The Man Of Sorrows

Another downbeat and sad song. What is it with these guys? Getting old and getting all misty eyed about their own mortality and writing sad slow songs about desperate sad lonely men. The song itself is seemingly written in parts. Starts off slow and just barely reached mid paced with a slow riffed section which is rather boring it must be said and even Bruce can't save it. The chorus is a little bit better with keys in the background that add emotion and "mood" to lend the song that melancholic feel. The lead solos are actually quite nice and melodic but do go quite a bit before that emotional chorus returns to take us home wards. Too downbeat and morose for me. 7/10

Empire of the Clouds

Seat belts signs on. This is gonna be a long one. Luckily the song is pretty damn amazing. It is a bit sad like the general theme of the previous songs but no doubt it is a masterpiece. It starts off typically slow and melancholic with audible classical instruments and a piano motif that is repeated later on in the song. Bruce makes his first appearance just after the 2 minute mark and starts spinning this historical yarn about some massive balloon or something and a man's ambitious plans. We reach midway through the fourth minute before and electric guitar plays the first slow riff accompaniment to the song.

Sure it's bloated as all hell but it sounds very cool and you can understand the need for length...just...though they are pushing it to the boundaries of course. If they play this live it will be amazing of course and what a feat of memory to play and sing it all.

At around the seven minute mark the song goes into a different melodic section with guitars taking over from the softer instruments with a proggier section and playing a catchy melody which sounds a bit like the Marseillese the French national anthem before things speed up considerably with the repetition of the riff but a bit faster before enter the mid paced and melodic riff section that I can imagine the fans woooahh wooahh-ing to if it's played live. The first solo of the song comes and goes but it's nothing special.

This extremely long musical mid section saunters way past the twelve minute mark before Bruce finally re-enters the fray with a straining vocal delivery although the melody is really catchy and awesome. Then follows more dramatic classical additions before Bruce once again recounts the flight of the balloon before the music takes a dramatic doomy turn as the balloon sinks from the skies and Bruce slowly ends the story before that nice melody from the beginning of the song resurfaces and the song ends as it began with sombre tones and delicate piano and a sad Bruce recounting the miserable end for this tale. A fine and amazing effort! 10/10

And there we have the new album by the heroes of British heavy metal. So much to absorb and digest. Definitely an interesting listen with many highs and quite a few lows as well but with so much music to sit through it will no doubt reveal more and more after repeated plays. The production on that album as usual remains a contentious issue but it is what the band wanted. Not perfect at all by today's standards but the band doesn't want that sound and we as fans have to accept the music as it's delivered. My overall rating for the album is a solid 8/10 with the chance of reaching a full point higher given further time. The album has four awesome tunes in The Book Of Souls, The Red and The Black, Shadows of the Valley and the awe inspiring Empire of the Clouds. Others may prefer different tracks but those are songs that move me the most at this point and almost make the price of admission worthwhile on their own. Maiden can still create magic but it's hard to do it in every song of course but I'm reasonably happy with this album despite obvious production flaws and average song writing drop offs. I'll be spinning this on a regular basis hoping for inspiration to rear its head in some of the lesser tracks and hopefully that will be the case.  Hopefully I'll see them live on tour in 2016 and not for the last time either. Up The Irons!

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Von Hertzen Brothers Live at the Camden Underworld

I vowed to myself not to go to this gig so my attendance is rather contradictory actually but what the hell I was there. You see I've already seen VHB earlier this year at the Boston Music Room and although I enjoyed their live set I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to see them live again so soon but it's a Friday night and there's nothing better to do and the ticket price wasn't exorbitant so I took the plunge. Two support bands were billed, namely Voodoo Six and Massive Wagons. I have seen V6 before and like them moderately and I wasn't aware of MW at all.

First up were MW who played to only about 50 people or so but they didn't put a step wrong really. They sounded Northern when they spoke in between songs so it's cool to have a Northern rock band come down to London town and rock the place out. And rock they surely did as MW have a swagger and fun aspect to their material that's a little bit tongue in cheek or happy go lucky but the songs always remain infectious and hook laden. the front man is an energetic bearded little guy but he's got a mean melodic voice and cool attitude. The riffs were of the gargantuan variety and bounced off the Underworld ceiling and walls and straight down my lugholes like there's no tomorrow. I've actually been to youtube to check the band's songs since the gig and I'm even more impressed now than I was then. They have an album which I need to check out pronto.

Next up were Voodoo Six whom I saw supporting Maiden at the O2 Arena no less a couple of years back but of course they've been a bit absent for a while and their profile has lessened somewhat in that time period as the singer explained from the stage. Nevertheless this 40 minute set reminded everyone gathered what V6 are all about. Heavily riffed melodic hard rock with slightly bluesy riffs here and there and a solid melodic singer. I actually enjoyed them more in a small venue like this than I remember when I saw them supporting Maiden. This sort of audience and venue allows the band to make a more personable impression than they would otherwise make. I'm sure I've heard their previous cds as the songs sounded quite familiar at times. They're in the process of writing a new album and they played one tune from it which was a slow building number but really got quite good as it progressed. V6's bass player gets special props for all the Steve Harris bass moves down at the front.

The crowd had built up pretty well as VHB seem to have quite a decent sized UK fan base going on here. I'd guess the crowd to be upwards of 300 by the start of their set which was mainly culled from their latest album New Day Rising. In fact almost all the album was played. The band is super heavy live and brought their own sound man as well which made the sound much sharper and blisteringly heavier than the previous two bands. In fact it was punishingly so at points and made the vocals quite hard to hear from my vantage point as I was standing right next to the right speaker and was getting the full force of it.

However I must admit the band sounded in tip top form. The front man has an easy going manner typical of Finns actually and his brothers and other members of the band all played their part in making the band sound as tight as I remember them being the first time I saw them earlier this year. Trouble remains my favourite song on the album and the performance on this track was mesmerising indeed. All the other new tracks were also pretty spot on with that monstrous guitar sound crushing the first few rows no doubt. I actually took the opportunity to buy their album which is signed by the band so that was cool.

Like I said this was just a late decision to go to this gig, but for a Friday nights entertainment it wasn't too bad at all and I'm glad I got the chance to be acquainted with Massive Wagons. What a cool band!