Classic Rock’s New Releases Round-Up
For your Easter delectation, this time we are choc (sic) full of new delights from Flying Colors, Halestorm, Peter Hammill and Lostprophets. Plus egg-cellent reissues courtesy of Napalm Death and Sleep.
Words: Malcolm Dome and Geoff Barton
Let’s forget about calling Flying Colors a supergroup. The combination of Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse and Steve Morse might be worthy of such an epithet, but their self-titled debut album (Music Theories Recordings) stands apart from any previous reputations. This is a big-sounding hard rock release, full of powerful performances and songs which might nod back at Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy, Ted Nugent and Deep Purple, but also have a self-sufficient strength of their own. This could easily be massive album for all involved.
Halestorm are one of the modern era of metal bands who’ve succeeded in finding commercial success without seeming to compromise. The fact is their sense of melody and punch is instinctive, as is shown on The Strange Case Of… (Roadrunner). Led by vocalist Lzzy Hale, this is an American band with flair, subtlety and drive. And an invigorating way of writing immediate songs with depth.
Lostprophets have long since ceased to surprise. You know their albums will be stuffed full of comfortable pop-rock with an alternative snap. However, on Weapons (Epic) they manage to infuse this long-held style with a new sense of agitation. While the songs might seem, on the surface, to be business as usual, there’s a restive spirit here that makes this rather more than a run-of-the-mill release from the Welsh band. At last, they might be ready to step up a gear or two and become a world-class act.
The Sweet have taken an interesting approach to the covers album New York Connection. Some of the selections are a little off-the-wall, with songs from The Black Keys and Electric Frankenstein included. And there are also nods to the band’s own distinguished back catalogue at times – and not just in the reinterpretation of New York Connection, originally the B-side to Wig Wam Bam. It’s amusing to try and spot the classic Sweet moments mashed in with the likes of Blitzkrieg Bop. It all makes this rather more than merely going through the covers motions. Get the album at www.thesweet.com
For Napalm Death, the original release in 1988 of From Enslavement To Obliteration (Earache) was the moment when they were taken seriously as a primeval force of nature. It was also the pivotal a point at which grindcore took its place as a phenomenon that would turn metal and punk inside out, exposing the viscera to a total noise attack. Now, nearly a quarter-of-a-century later, this is still a stunning album, one that’s barely dated and one that is as groundbreaking as ever. A remarkable record – and one of the most important extreme releases of all time.
Peter Hammill displays various sides to his talents and approaches on the seven-CD live box set PNO GTR VOX BOX (Fie! Records). This has an epic eight hours of live recordings which, at various stages, has the man playing just piano, just guitar, only playing Van Der Graaf Generator songs, doing alternate versions of some tracks… and even putting together the set list for his hypothetical last-ever show. It gives a tremendous insight into the way songs can be adapted and adopted in the live environment, and will certainly keep Hammill fans enthralled.
Bedlam – originally known as Beast – were a short-lived early-70s band featuring the late and legendary Cozy Powell on drums. They released just one self-titled album in 1973. Now emerges In Command 1973 (Angel Air), which was recorded live in London in front of an audience at Command Studios, principally as a promo recording for the USA. It’s energetic blues-rock, with Frank Aiello (ex-Truth) really showing he could sing to a tremendous standard in a style that owed something to Paul Rodgers, with hints of Rod Stewart too. There’s a bonus version here of the Powell hit Dance With The Devil, from Bedlam’s US tour in 1974. Overall you are left with the feeling that this lot could’ve developed into something a lot bigger and bolder, given the time.
Sleep regularly set new, occasionally preposterous standards in the doom and proto-stoner area of metal. And you can hear just how inspirational this lot were on the reissue of Dopesmoker (Southern Lord). The 2003 original was insidiously impressive enough, but the remastering this time around has everything so much clearer, and gives us a clearer vision – through the weed haze – of what the band aimed to achieve. There’s also new artwork, plus a live version of Holy Mountain from 1994. Sheer blissed-out… erm, bliss.
With Battle Scars, veteran English progsters Galahad (Avalon Records) have produced a thoroughly modern release that embraces a myriad of styles, veering into techno, ambient and dance territories at times. Echoes of Riverside, Oceansize and even System Of A Down also resound in an album of breathtaking ambition. Beginning with the highly orchestrated title song, this isn’t a relaxing listen. Each track has numerous twists and turns, and the overall ambience is unnerving, jagged and challenging. Standouts include Singularity, which recalls Finnish experimentalists Pharoah Overlörd; Bitter And Twisted, full of mysterious intensity; and Seize The Day, which begins in elegiac fashion and then goes techno crazy. It’s a fitting tribute to bassist Neil Pepper, who died of cancer last year aged just 44. He managed to play all his parts on Battle Scars although he had to sit down to play because of the discomfort.
Captain Black Beard are categorically not a band of pirate metalists. So if you’re a peg-legged Alestorm fan, hobble away now. These Swedish swashbucklers actually play an idiosyncratic brand of melodic pop-metal that has its roots in the lighter side of the NWOBHM (Black Axe, Paralex, Sabre). Each of the 11 songs on their self-titled debut (www.captainblackbeard.net) is mightily memorable but there are three firm standouts: rip-roaring opener Hey Man; the elegiac Rock Is My Life (‘bourbon my fuel’ taking a creditable second place); and Rockin’ Body, a cheeky paean to a girl with ‘a drink in her hand and a nice tan’. What more could a man want?
X-UFO, as the name implies, comprise former Phil Mogg-related sidemen Laurence Archer (guitar), Danny Peyronel (vocals/keys) and Clive Edwards (drums). Joining them on bass is Rocky Newton who, er… was never actually a member of UFO. The closest he came was the Michael Schenker Group. We were prepared to hate Vol. 1 – The Live Files (X-Music) but it’s actually ridiculously entertaining. All the classics are here – Let It Roll, Rock Bottom, Lights Out, Doctor Doctor et al – and while the renditions lack the measured approach of the ‘proper’ band, the level of enthusiasm cannot be denied.
Tags: Aerosmith, Bedlam, Black Keys, Cozy Powell, Deep Purple, Electric Frankenstein, Flying Colors, Frank Aiello, Halestorm, Lostprophets, Lzzy Hale, Mike Portnoy, Napalm Death, Neal Morse, Paul Rodgers, Peter Hammill, Rod Stewart, Sleep, Steve Morse, Ted Nugent, The Sweet, Thin Lizzy, Van Der Graaf Generator