CRYSIS – Insane EP


Crysis are a five piece metalcore band from Oxford and within seconds of hitting the play button on their debut EP ‘Insane’, they’re ready to hit you with their musical juggernaut. The three songs are loaded with plenty of heavy riffs, but looking at the harsh black and white artwork and band name, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone.

Kial Churcher’s hardcore/melodic death metal growling isn’t always especially to my taste, but his delivery – a mix of DevilDriver’s Dez Fafara and the more exteme end of Pantera’s Phil Anselmo – comes with a great intensity that’s so perfectly suited to the musical arrangements. Across the three featured tracks, the band proves themselves to be consistently tight musicians, particularly the work of drummer Matt Pledge.

‘Your Temptation’ opens with a thrust of drums and a huge growl from Churcher, against which the guitar riffs have an edge. The slow moments during the end of the chorus have some serious bottom-end; following which, guitarists Josh O’Brien and Shaun Linstead turn in some great solo work. In terms of shredding, this is certainly the EP’s best moment. ‘To The Gallows’ opens with a lighter groove, which once Pledge’s drums kick in, has an oddly bouncy quality. The main part of the track is driven by a hardcore metal riff, its sound like a cross between Lamb of God and ‘Far Beyond Driven’ era Pantera. Of the three numbers, this shows Crysis at their strongest, particularly during a mid section which briefly slows things down with a doom laden riff, which in turn becomes a full-on chug-fest. A second clean, almost spoken vocal makes a brief appearance, and in doing so provides a little variety. Pledge’s double bass work is hard and relentless, driving things forward before returning to the original riff.

‘Shoot The Glass’ naturally follows a similar pattern of chugging metal riffs, but here there are traces of Pantera at their absolute heaviest, circa ‘Great Southern Trendkill’. Churcher’s vocal rarely breaks beyond a full-on growl, but once again, it’s perfect for the job in hand. There are a few solid features within this number, but it’s the grinding, power-groove inspired guitar work around the three minute mark which really stands out. Behind the double bass drums which follow, there’s a return to the really old-school riff which opened the number. It sounds a little like Iron Maiden’s ‘Prowler’ – but while this is a very serious sounding track, I’d like to think the band threw this one in with a knowing wink.

‘Insane’ presents a trio of solid numbers which highlight Crysis’s ability as musicians. While this recording may not have as much bass as a full-scale expensive, professional recording, it sounds like they know their way around a recording studio. If you’re a fan of this style of metal, you could do far worse than check them out – though naturally, if metalcore isn’t your bag, Crysis are extremely unlikely to do anything for you.

Visit Crysis on Facebook here and on MySpace here.

March 2011

THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART – The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart


The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is hardly a band name which trips off the tongue. It may not always be one you’ll remember; however, in the past they’ve received some decent press. I hadn’t known what to expect when approaching this album, but it turns out I got a pleasant surprise.

Beginning with the bass-less, drum-less fuzziness of ‘Contender’, initially I thought this band wouldn’t interest me at all. But…by the time track two arrives, I’m reminded of the more commercial elements of Lush and 90s shoegaze/alt-pop – and that pleases me. Female ooh’s, quirky lead vocals, a pace that’s too punchy for the some of the indie kids, yet not quite punk-pop – a sunny quality which comes as a pleasant surprise. Faster than Lush, more tuneful than the indie-pop chav gold from Kenickie, Pains of Being Pure at Heart have some great musical qualities. ‘Young Adult Friction’ is pure jangle pop – the kind that never really goes out of style; and the slightly kooky keyboard lodged under the mix of other stuff helps to add colour. The only criticism is that at just over four minutes, it feels a little long.

It may not have been the desired end result, but ‘Hey Paul’ sounds like The Wedding Present even if vocalist Kip Bermon doesn’t have the curmudgeonly demeanour of David Gedge. One of the standout tracks, ‘Stay Alive’, shows the lighter side of the band. This track stands out due to the chirpy nature of the music alone, as the vocals aren’t as clear as they could be. Some moments feel a little more traditionally shoegaze – ‘Gentle Sons’ has an echoing vocal matched against a mid paced drone of guitars. Some listeners are bound to love it, but ‘Teenager In Love’ is my contender for the track likely to be skipped every time – if something reminds me of the twee nastiness of Belle and Sebastian that much, you can keep it! Thanks.

This album may not be an all round classic, but its balance somewhere between sugary pop songs and fuzzy noise is so early 90s it feels good…and sometimes, that’s all you need.

January 2010

BRIAN ROBERTSON – Diamonds And Dirt


For a man who contributed a vast amount of guitar work to most of Thin Lizzy’s classic 1970s releases – and provided half of their trademark, hugely influential twin-lead sound – Brian Robertson’s place as a legend in the annals of rock history is assured. His solo debut ‘Diamonds and Dirt’ comes some thirty-two years after his departure from Lizzy and almost three decades since his short tenure with Motörhead.

Given his previous record, amount of talent and the fact that he has had years out of the spotlight, Robertson’s ‘Diamonds and Dirt’ could have been a belter. Sadly, it’s an album which often appears rather one-paced and workmanlike. In addition, since most of the tracks have supposedly been kicking around in demo form for ages (in some cases dating back to his early 80s band Wild Horses and beyond), ‘Diamonds and Dirt’ sounds like an album which would have been a hit in 1992, back when Robbo’s old running mate Scott Gorham struck out with his band 21 Guns. In 2011, however, it’s a different story – most of the tracks now sound plain dated as opposed to retaining a timeless rock quality.

The title track weaves a mid-paced groove, with staccato rhythms and occasional big chords, but as opposed to a classic seventies sound, the over-riding mood is one of mid/late 80s AOR, delivered decades too late. This could still have passed muster with a better vocal, but ex-Michael Schenker Group vocalist Leif Sundin doesn’t have a great range or an especially powerful delivery. On the plus side, Robbo’s solo is great, though. The funk-rock groove of ‘Passion’ fares a little better, but musically it’s still nothing out of the ordinary – and as the early 90s style funk moments give way to a lightweight AOR chorus full of female backing harmonies, it all gets really fluffy.

A cover of Frankie Miller’s ‘Mail Box’ (from his 1973 album ‘Once In a Blue Moon’) begins with some chunky chords, which it then doesn’t really follow up. Sundin’s vocal comes with a slight huskier tone, but still none of the power needed; the female vocals flesh things out yet again and while Robbo’s chords do their best to maintain interest, it’s not quite enough. A cover of Miller’s ‘Do It Till We Drop’ is similarly uninspired. The wah-wah driven ‘Blues Boy’ is better than most of the album’s tracks, as Robbo gets the opportunity to stretch out a little. The solos are classy while the main riff – a standard blues-rock – has a great tone. Sundin’s lead vocal has nowhere near the kind of grit required for the performance in hand though, and the addition of the female backing vocals (yet again) seem rather out of step with the bluesy mood.

Most of the interest in ‘Diamonds and Dirt’ is likely to concern the re-recordings of a couple of old Thin Lizzy numbers. While, like most of the album, these are fine for what they are, it’s best not to get too excited. A reworking of ‘It’s Only Money’, naturally, still comes with a commanding riff; but while Robbo’s performance is okay, the rest of the band falls short of Lizzy’s greatness. Naturally, a run-of-the-mill vocalist like Sundin is no match for Phil Lynott – and without Lynott’s Irish charm and unique delivery, it just doesn’t feel right somehow. Robertson’s take on ‘Running Back’ (already the weakest number from Thin Lizzy’s classic ‘Jailbreak’ LP) settles into a pub-rock sound, like The Quireboys without any of the clout. Throughout the number, Robertson throws in a few decent slide guitar flourishes, but these are often sidelined in favour of boogie-rock piano moments. A second take on ‘Running Back’ is presented as a swaggering blues, where Robertson’s performances are top-notch. His guitar work speaks for itself here, so it’s easier to overlook Sundin’s middling lead vocal or the obligatory female oohs.

’10 Miles To Go On A 9 Mile Road’ (a number written and originally recorded by alt-rock/country musician Jim White) feels completely out of step with the safe rock heard on most of the other songs. While the use of eastern musical motifs provide some much needed variety and some of Robbo’s guitar playing more than passes muster, the American drawl on the partly spoken vocal sounds very unnatural. Once again, they’ve managed to shoe-horn in the 1980s style female backing too… While it’s great that Robertson was brave enough to include this tune among the more predictable rock styles featured on ‘Diamonds and Dirt’, it doesn’t entirely work out for the best.

For guitar chops ‘Texas Wind’ and ‘That’s All!’ are undoubtedly the album’s greatest achievements, with Robbo offering a couple of fairly fierce solos in the way he was once capable. With a harder vocalist on board, ‘That’s All!’ could have potentially been an absolute belter. As it stands, though, it’s decent enough, with the rhythm section (featuring Treat’s Nalle Pahlsson and Europe’s Ian Haughland, on bass and drums respectively) providing just enough clout.

A cover of Frankie Miller’s ‘Ain’t Got No Money’ finishes things off well, though this has nothing to do with the predictable blues-rock plodding throughout. The god-like Rob Lamothe (one-time Riverdogs frontman) steps up for a guest vocal and in doing so provides the number with something memorable. While it’s admirable that Robertson would choose to include three of his friend Miller’s songs in this collection, you have to wonder if the album would have been improved by the addition of more original material, written by Robbo himself. But then, Robertson was never really work-oriented. Why spend hours and hours writing songs and spending time in the studio when you can spend it doing “rock-star activities”?

…And that brings us back to ‘Diamonds and Dirt’s main weakness. These songs were not really designed as a complete selection for an album release. It’s a collection of ideas and songs which have been pulled together from different sources and recorded at a later date. Despite having years and years worth of unused songs and ideas to draw from (not to mention years to actually write some new ones), Robertson couldn’t even manage to put together twelve original compositions.

From a new or lesser artist, ‘Diamonds and Dirt’ would probably sound okay, though still not remarkable by any means. From an artist of Robbo’s calibre however, a few guitar leads aside, the album just doesn’t cut it in the way it should. It’s certainly not wrong to have expected more than what’s on offer here, maybe up to the standard of the short-lived Wild Horses with Jimmy Bain. The album is far from objectionable, but there’s nothing here to keep listeners coming back for more.

If you’re a Thin Lizzy completist, you’ll certainly be adding ‘Diamonds and Dirt’ to your collection, but be fully prepared to play it a couple of times and then leave it on the shelf.

March 2011



Although the third album by alternative rock/post-grunge band Staind had a very commercial edge in places, a commercial feel which the band retained over each subsequent release, few could have predicted that their frontman Aaron Lewis’s first solo release would be a country record. Despite making his name with hard rock music, Lewis was raised on country and has chosen to put his stamp on it with ‘Town Line’ – a five song EP featuring guest spots by Chris Young, fiddle player Charlie Daniels (best known for his 1979 hit ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’) and the legendary George Jones.

The single release ‘Country Boy’ has a strong acoustic base, coupled with an almost marching quality on the drums. Despite a great use of slide guitar and a definite rootsy feel, it’s clear why this was chosen as the lead track. The vocal is unmistakably that of Aaron Lewis, and here, his heartfelt delivery keeps in line with the sound of Staind’s power ballads. Despite occasional scraping fiddle from Daniels (who also delivers a slightly cringe-worthy monologue at the close), it’s the perfect vehicle for breaking listeners in gently.

At times elsewhere, things get a little more country. Obviously, Lewis’s style isn’t one of old-school country and western syrupiness, but it’s not always as influenced by country-rock as you’d expect either. The most country-rock number, ‘Vicious Circle’ sounds like a country re-working of a Hootie & The Blowfish ballad. Beneath atmospheric and twanging electric guitar work, it’s the acoustic guitars, lapsteels and dobros which provide the heart of the number. Naturally, these instruments are a world away from Staind’s world of hard rock. The spaciousness of the arrangement allows Lewis the room to deliver a very powerful performance. It’s definitely the stand-out track, with each of the elements sounding very strong indeed.

A re-recording of the Staind number ‘Tangled Up In You’ offers the most uninspired track. While Lewis’s performance is faultless and the harmonies on the chorus are pleasing, overall, it presents little difference to the original recording. The Staind original was an acoustic lament anyway – and the only concession to making the number fit the country mould is the addition of a soft lapsteel throughout. A harmony vocal from Alexa Carter, which becomes most obvious at the song’s close, adds a little extra something, but it’s hardly a groundbreaking performance. ‘The Story Never Ends’ is probably the most country influenced track. It’s music-television new-country by numbers as opposed to a old-school hoedown, but again, Lewis sounds comfortable in his country shoes. Chris Young’s harmony vocals provide some great backing on a well-constructed chorus.

Lewis takes his country influences fairly seriously throughout this release. While this change in direction may seem odd at first, nothing sounds unnatural – he has a definite feeling for this musical style. If country music is good enough for Hootie’s Darius Rucker then it’s good enough for others (though, make no mistake, Lewis’s solo debut doesn’t get quite that country) but even so, it’s hard to say whether many Staind fans will embrace Aaron Lewis’s change of direction here. This is a release that is undoubtedly going to be too country for most Staind fans, yet not country enough for country music fans…but even so, it presents a short, yet solid set of songs.

[The five new recordings are augmented with two bonus versions of ‘Country Boy’, in both acoustic form and a radio edit]

March 2011

WHITESNAKE – Forevermore


David Coverdale may be the only original member of Whitesnake to appear on ‘Forevermore’, but even so, the band sounds unshakably confident throughout their eleventh studio release. The twin guitar attack of Reb Beach (ex-Winger/Dokken) and Doug Aldrich (ex-Dio/Bad Moon Rising) make a fairly uncompromising frontline and ex-Pride and Glory drummer Brian Tichy provides a hefty punch behind the drumkit. One of the other things which quickly becomes apparent about ‘Forevermore’, is that it captures Coverdale in (mostly) good form throughout – often sticking to his bluesier voice (as heard on the latter Deep Purple and earlier Whitesnake discs). Naturally, his rock voice also appears in places, but even then, only on numbers where it seems perfectly suited.

The opening number ‘Steal Your Heart Away’ sets the scene with a blues-tinged slice of hard rock topped with unsubtle slide guitars. Coverdale’s voice sounds suitably scratchy and sits well with the musical mood. A solo split between Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach promises more than it eventually delivers, but overall, this is a number based on groove factor as opposed to just notes and flash. ‘Love Will Set You Free’ is loaded with harmony vocals and is driven by a classic sounding riff. It’s a number which very much harkens back to their formative, pre-Mel Galley years, where blues-rock was the order of the day. While Tichy’s drumming style is much heavier than that of Ian Paice, there’s a vibe here which is reminiscent of their ‘Ready an’ Willing’ sound.

‘I Need You (Shine A Light)’ moves things into a more cod-rock direction and with it comes fronted with Coverdale’s rock voice. It doesn’t sound especially natural for him singing in this style and doesn’t greet the ears well as his bluesier tones, but even so, this still manages to be an okay track, thanks to a big sing-along chorus and backing harmonies. It’s not essential Whitesnake by any means, but quite fun all the same. For those who found Whitesnake during the late 80s, ‘Easier Said Than Done’ should appeal with its solid AOR sound; it has a mid-paced delivery and Coverdale is particularly fine voice. It’s Coverdale who steals the show on this track, but even so, Reb Beach’s clean-toned guitars and tasteful solo also provide some stand-out moments.

The acoustic guitars at the centre of ‘One of These Days’ showcase the soft side of the band, and unsurprisingly, Coverdale sounds superb delivering a softer vocal. The electric lead guitar work which creeps in is incredibly tasteful, particularly towards the end, where Beach and Aldrich are captured in a classic sounding twin harmony. It’s great to hear Coverdale getting properly sentimental, as opposed to his previous feelings of “lurve”, which often had all the class of a quick grope behind some bushes. Maybe writing with Doug Aldrich has bought a calming influence? Even ‘Love and Treat Me Right’, which normally would get the warning lights flashing, isn’t quite as sexually charged as Coverdale would have once made it. It’s potentially cringe-worthy aspects can be overlooked in favour of the pounding rock riff and Doug Aldrich’s showy solo. [The album isn’t completely without the old Coverdale “charm” though, and it would have been churlish to expect otherwise. The sexual overtones are definitely played down compared to the earlier days, though].

For those looking for more great blues-rock, ‘Whipping Boy Blues’ delivers in spades. While David Coverdale’s squealy approach can grate on occasion, here, it’s the natural choice for such a Zeppelin-esque arrangement. Throw in some great soloing from both Aldrich and Beach, a rock solid bass line from Michael Devin, topped with crashy drums from Brian Tichy, and it presents the sound of an old-school band that isn’t to be messed with.

Things step up a gear for ‘My Evil Ways’ – a full-on boogie-rock number which showcases Brian Tichy’s powerhouse drumming style. Something this throwaway ought to feel like filler material, but the energy and tightness driving this incarnation of Whitesnake means they pull it off with aplomb…and just when things are in danger of slowing down, Aldrich and Beach step up to exchange high energy solos. This is certainly a number destined for great live performances.

The title cut is a seven minute epic, starting gently with acoustic guitars and keyboards. Coverdale adopts a very restrained vocal style, conjuring memories of the classic ‘Starkers In Tokyo’ acoustic live disc. As the music builds, Reb Beach and Michael Devin add harmony vocals, before the band crank things up with an Eastern sounding arrangement which (as is often the case with such things) tips the hat to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’. It’s a well-thought out and brilliantly arranged closing number, capping off an already decent disc.

‘Forevermore’ is a surprisingly consistent album, with each of the thirteen Coverdale/Aldrich penned tracks offering the listener some top quality tunes. However, while the hard edges are somewhat refreshing in the same way as it’s predecessor (2008’s ‘Good To Be Bad’), like that album, it feels like a release chiefly for the Whitesnake die-hards. More casual listeners may be better of sticking with their copies of ‘1987’ and ‘Live In The Heart of The City’.

March 2011