Classic Rock’s New Release Round-Up
This week, we traverse the globe to give y’all a bit of everything: a portion of Pink Floyd-style prog, a slice of late-60s psychedelic rock’n’roll, a band who’re labelling themselves ‘the new Dream Theater’, a forgotten release from the NWOBHM era… plus an amusing offering from possibly the craziest tribute band of all time.
Words: Geoff Barton
Remember when the likes of Island, Charisma and, of course, Casablanca Records offered a guaranteed stamp of quality? Well, despite the collapse of the music industry there are still cult labels out there to pique your interest. Think Tee Pee. Think Rise Above. Think Fruits de Mer! This tiny outfit outta Walton-On-Thames, Surrey specialises in vinyl-only releases, their eclectic roster of bands offering new versions of psychedelic, prog, acid-folk and krautrock classics. Vibravoid’s What Colour Is Pink? EP is vol. 10 in a series of seven-inch singles, and these deranged Düsseldorf drongos have done Fruits de Mer proud with interpretations of Pink Floyd’s Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, Let There Be More Light and A Saucerful Of Secrets. If you thought the originals were off-kilter, you ain’t heard nuthin’ yet. It’s like early Kraftwerk (with Ray Manzarek on keys) let loose in the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. More mind-blowing than a ton of Space Dust fermenting in a barrel of Alka-Seltzer. Find out more at www.fruitsdemerrecords.com
From Germany we leap to Canada. Ax formed in Kitchener, Ontario, back in the late 1960s. They faded into obscurity without releasing anything – until now. The three tracks on their You’ve Been So Bad EP (Rise Above Relics) were recorded in 1970 – and if you’re a connoisseur of psychedelic heavy rock you’ll lap ’em up. Prime-time ploddy, doomy and bluesy stuff, capped by excellent Ozzy-style vox from Gary Gross.
Over to Blighty now. Aeon Zen are a duo – Cambridge-based multi-instrumentalist Richard Hinks and Lloyd Musto on drums – augmented by guest studio musicians with Euro-sounding names (Cristian Van Schuerbeck, anyone?). A Mind’s Portrait (Time Divide Records) if full of overwrought prog metal with somewhat weedy vocals. AZ are actually at their best when they step off the gas and play more considered songs like Blinded Rain.
Blimey – now we’re off to Italy. Timesword, the brainchild of guitarist Dan Logoluso, bill themselves as ‘a new progressive rock/metal super band – perfect for lovers of Dream Theater’. Their album Chains Of Sin is out now on the 7hard label. Unfortunately their inflated claim to be the new DT falls to pieces within seconds of opening track A Thousand Year Kingdom, unless you’ve got a predilection for strangulated vocals and a Pinky & Perky keyboard sound.
Over to sunny Bournemouth. Six albums in, and Dorset-based Big Big Train just keep getting better and better. The Underfall Yard (English Electric Recordings) has the usual array of star guests (from Spock’s Beard, It Bites, Frost* etc) and also features BBT’s new singer David Longdon. Let’s not beat about the bush – this is an Anglo-prog masterclass. Packed full of tall tales and deep laments, the brilliantly melancholic Victorian Brickwork is a standout.
To London’s Chalk Farm now, where the old Bronze record label used to be based. Often lumped in with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, Bronz were actually late arrivals on the scene, not releasing their debut album Taken By Storm until 1983. Signed to Bronze (see what they did there?) and fronted by future GTR singer Max Bacon, they scored a minor hit single with Send Down An Angel and then disappeared. Carried By The Storm (Your Tune) is Bronz’s recently rediscovered second album and features an all-new cast apart from guitarist Shaun Kirkpatrick. Despite a crisp production job from Max Norman it sounds incredibly dated in a Uriah Heep-meets-Loverboy way. A twee collection of soulless hysteria and leftover 1980s leg-warmers, it’s a reminder of more naïve times, for sure, but not necessarily better ones.
Finally, a bit of harmless fun from Los Angeles. Now, are you fed up with tribute bands that don’t look or sound anything like the originals? Then Rock Sugar could be your salvation. If their fictitious back-story isn’t captivating enough (’80s metal band rescued after 20 years on a desert island; brainwashed and confused, rockers return to Hollywood with a shocking new musical style’) then their spectacular ‘reimaginings’ of rock classics on the cunningly titled Reimaginator (www.rocksugarband.com) should amuse the hell out of you. Don’t Stop The Sandman mixes Metallica’s Enter Sandman with Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’; Crazy Girls, unbelievably, bolts Ozzy’s Crazy Train on to Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl; Dreaming Of A Whole Lotta Breakfast, even more unbelievably, joins Aerosmith’s Dream On and Supertramp’s Breakfast In America with Zep’s Whole Lotta Love and Stairway To Heaven. It’s all done in the best possible taste, capped by tip-top vocals from Jess Harnell of Loud & Clear fame. Check ’em out playing Don’t Stop The Sandman here.