BOWES & MORLEY – Moving Swiftly Along


Over the course of the 1990s, Thunder had gained a solid fanbase, a lot of press goodwill in the UK and notched up a few million album sales. Despite their sales figures dropping toward the end, it had been a successful ten years for the band. Vocalist Danny Bowes, guitarist Luke Morley and drummer Gary ‘Harry’ James had been working together for far longer, though, having previously made up the core of British rock band Terraplane, whose career highpoint had been a slot at the Reading Festival in 1982.

Everybody needs a change, and so it was with Thunder. After playing a farewell show at Camden Dingwalls in May 2000, the band looked to new projects. Luke Morley released a solo album ‘El Gringo Retro’ in 2001, which he promoted with live shows. These live shows featured other Thunder members (though no appearance from Bowes), so in terms of moving on, the Thunder chaps hadn’t exactly moved very far!

In 2002 Morley teamed up with vocalist Danny Bowes once again, forming the imaginatively named Bowes & Morley. Despite the duo being the driving force behind Thunder and most of the songs being written by Luke Morley as usual, their debut album, ‘Moving Swiftly Along’ echews Thunder’s classic Free and Bad Company influenced hard rock sound and opts for softer soul filled grooves. Though a few numbers edge towards syrupy, it’s not often soul in a soft Motown-esque style… Here, for obvious reasons, the album’s soul vibe often manifests itself in a “white rock musician” way.

‘Freakshow’ opens proceedings with a bouncing piano and a slight Stax vibe. Vocally, Bowes sounds completely at ease; female backing vocals add weight to the soul elements here, but it would have been just as good without them. ‘Hypnotized’ has a well-structured funk groove and far less of a throwaway party atmosphere. The track opens with a guitar line with a gently Spanish flavour, before a tight horn arrangement provides a big musical hook. The drums lead a shuffling groove with plenty of organ and while Morley’s contribution is limited to choppy rhythm guitar for the most part, everything builds towards a great solo which fills plenty of space until the fade.

Things get turned down a notch for ‘Something About My Baby’. While the soul elements of this track lean towards a more syrupy easy listening style (something really not helped by the female backing), a warm bass set against sitar (played here by the song’s co-writer Garfield Myers) provides a nice backdrop for Bowes, who naturally turns in a great performance. Luckily, a spirited cover of The Power Station’s ‘Powertrippin’ provides contrast enough to balance things out. Here, Morely’s rhythmic guitar is spiky and aggressive, competing against equally sharp horns. Childs’s bass line is busy without being obtrusive and on the whole, it’s one of a few numbers which could’ve graced a Thunder album. Winterville’s Peter Shoulder guests on a featured guitar solo, which is aggressive while remaining tuneful. [In 2010, Morley formed blues-rock band with Shoulder called The Union, not to be confused with the similarly named band featuring KISS man Bruce Kulick and ex-Mötley Crüe/The Scream vocalist John Corabi].

‘Dancing The Night Away’ contains a similar energy, but despite another top-notch bass line from Childs and superb vocal from Bowes, this one is weaker than the previous uptempo numbers due to an uninspired chorus which is too heavily reliant on backing vocals. ‘Hesitate’ gets the balance of the album’s key musical ingredients just right. Bowes finds a decent blend of rock and soul in his vocal and Morley’s guitar has an edge, but not enough of one to make this a hard rock number. The horns recall classic Stax once again (particularly work by Sam and Dave) and an electric piano solo (courtesy of David “Muncher” Moore) adds an extra element of retro cool. Even the backing vocals are well arranged here, making this a definite stand out track.

‘Better Times’ moves away from soul influences and moves towards acoustic singer-songwriter territory. Bowes’s vocal is as at ease as it ever was, while a few twangy guitars give the song a slight country feel in places, but its best moments are provided by Morley overlaying some subtle bluesy electric guitar lines. ‘River of Time’ has an unashamedly funky guitar riff which sounds like a re-write of the riff from Thunder’s ‘Too Scared To Live’ (from their 1995 album ‘Behind Closed Doors’) and as such, is one of the times that Bowes and Morley’s more mature approach falls aside almost completely. It’s none the worse for its outright Thunder-ness, of course. Bowes’s vocal is strong and the arrangement gives Morley the opportunity to cut loose (just a little). As good as it is, it’s a shame they didn’t swap the organ part for a clavinet, to make it more in keeping with the more retro styled funk present elsewhere.

‘I’d Take the Stars Out of the Sky’ closes the disc in a mellow way, with a very smooth performance from Bowes. Moore’s 70s style organ work is understated and very sympathetic to the vocal performance. Thanks to a couple of impeccably played solos, Morley’s performance here is arguably his finest on this album; he shows a great restraint with his playing and judges the mood perfectly, never upstaging Bowes.

While musically some of the material may be a little bit too soul influenced and a little lightweight for the more unadventurous hard rock fan, ‘Moving Swiftly Along’ is an excellent showcase for Danny Bowes’s bluesy vocal style. Granted Luke may have written most of the songs and played guitar, but it’s Bowes who really grabs the attention on most of this disc. It’s certainly an album which deserves a wider audience and its mature sound is natural companion to some of Thunder’s softer outings. Unfortunately, ‘Moving Swiftly Along’ was not a commercial success; but despite its poor sales, Bowes & Morley released a second album in 2004. Entitled ‘Mo’s Barbeque’, that second album fared much better, although still only achieved modest sales and gained a cult following.

Looking at the bigger picture, Thunder’s retirement in 2000 was arguably one of the shortest retirements ever, since it only lasted two years. They were persuaded to reform for the 2002 Monsters of Rock festival, to the delight of fans. The new line up of Thunder included Chris Childs, who was drafted in as a result of his great work on ‘Moving Swiftly Along’. The reformation was not to be a one off, however; Thunder stayed together for the next seven years, disbanding for a second time in August 2009.

September 2010

JUDAS PRIEST – Painkiller


By the time ‘Painkiller’ hit the shelves in September 1990, I had been a Judas Priest fan for the best part of ten years.

The 1980’s will often be remembered as Priest’s most successful decade: the release of ‘British Steel’ in the height of the NWOBHM ensured decent sales and pushed the band farther into the public eye. There were also top performances throughout on 1982’s ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ and 1984’s ‘Defenders of the Faith’. However, after 1986’s ‘Turgid’ ‘Turbo’ and 1988’s ‘Ram It Down’ saw a rather lack-lustre band treading water, many fans felt they needed a kick up the arse to get the fire back.

That kick came after long-time drummer Dave Holland was replaced with Racer X drummer Scott Travis. Their regular studio producer Colonel Tom Allom (producer of their six previous studio albums released between 1980-88) had also been sidelined, with the band choosing Chris Tsangrides (engineer on 1976’s classic ‘Sad Wings of Destiny‘) to produce.

I’ll never forget hearing this album for the first time. After a quick burst of the opening number, complete with fast drumming and speed metal influences, Priest sounded more alive than they had in a long time. Two decades on and the power behind ‘Painkiller’ still holds true, thanks in no small part to Travis’s arrival.

The title cut squeals and thunders and Rob is in top scream; Glenn and KK’s twin guitar work still sounds unmatched. A similar approach is taken on ‘All Guns Blazing’, although its couple of slower moments have more in common with ‘Freewheel Burning’. Some elements of ‘Metal Meltdown’ are full on speed metal, although the slower chorus (easily memorable and surely designed for shouting at gigs) helps make it stand out.

‘Night Crawler’, ‘Leather Rebel’, ‘One Shot at Glory’ and ‘Between The Hammer & The Anvil’ present a far more traditional sounding Priest. While the songs themselves could’ve been pulled from ‘Defenders of the Faith’ (the album ‘Painkiller’ resembles the most on its slower tracks), Scott Travis’s bass drums are still hit harder than anything Dave Holland ever recorded. Even on the slower numbers, the band sound exciting and rejuvenated. The album’s power ballad moment (if I may call it that), ‘Touch of Evil’, does exactly what you’d expect. With its fist-in-the-air MTV rock friendliness, its melodic nature makes it an excellent choice for a single release (though not overly successful in the UK, in the US it remains one of the band’s biggest hits). Musically, it sits in the back catalogue comfortably next to ‘Night Comes Down’.

Reviews for ‘Painkiller’ at the time were generally positive. Although some fans found some of the material on offer heavier than they’d been used to, some new fans were pleased by the harder direction the band had taken. At the time, guitarist Glenn Tipton said ‘Painkiller’ “was about the heaviest album [the band] were likely to make”. After touring the album, in a surprise move, Rob Halford quit the band after over seventeen years. He formed a new band, Fight, again with Scott Travis on drums. They would take the power of ‘Painkiller’ and fuse it with even more extreme metal influences. For those who’d baulked at ‘Painkiller’, it was time to say goodbye to Rob, at least for the time being.

Decades on, ‘Painkiller’ sounds absolutely classic: a fantastic achievement for a band so far into their career.

January 2010

FANTAZZMO – Fantazzmo 1: Enter The Fantazz


Do you remember a time when music had the power to set your soul free?” asks the opening line of this album’s press release. With such a bold opening statement, I found myself thinking of those life-changing albums – whether they be ‘Revolver’ by The Beatles, ‘Ritual De Lo Habitual’ by Jane’s Addiction or the many other groundbreaking, genre-bending, brilliantly inventive pieces of plastic which have spent time on our collective stereos.  Fantazzmo is the brainchild of Sergio Bedolla (one time member of Anima) and this debut release ‘Enter The Fantazz’ pulls together nearly every musical influence he can muster. Rather than sounding like an eclectic mix of songs, it ends up being a journey into self-congratulatory pointlessness.  Judging by the tone of the press release, that shouldn’t have been a great surprise.

This is one of those records you could (and probably) give up as a bad job after the awful first track, but a morbid curiosity ensures you might feel a duty to find out how else your “soul was about to be set free”… That rather hideous opening number contains various explicit remarks about Sergio Bedolla’s bedroom antics. It’s so vulgar and devoid of humour, listeners need to be warned that it may cause vomiting. Musically, it’s a dreadful waste of a crunchy guitar riff. …And to make matters worse, it’s called ‘Superman’. If there were a prize for biggest ego, this guy would be in the running. Unbelievably, this blatantly offensive three-minuter was chosen for release as a single!

‘I Know You’re Mine’ – a rock number which also brings elements of power pop and funk – sounds much better (but then very little could have been worse). There’s no real hook here to speak of, but – glossing over a rather ugly guitar solo – it works quite well. ‘Souls On Ice’ is a mixed bag. This slice of early 90s funk metal takes its cue from the hugely underrated Mind Funk (at least musically, but compared to Mind Funk’s debut, this is a little ham-fisted). Here you’ll find a hard rock riff leaning towards an old-school groove topped off with wah-wah driven solos. Lyrically, though, it’s another very poor show, being another outlet for Bedolla’s unpleasant, misogynistic, violently aggressive sexual hang ups. The core of ‘She Really Likes It’ (subtle, huh?) steals rather blatantly from The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’, as a fuzzy guitar churns out notes against an almost singular pounding drum. The bridge sections are a bit fuller sounding with a seventies rock vibe. Another ugly guitar solo borders on self-indulgence. Factor in a half-arsed vocal where Bedello delivers lines about how great he is in bed and how his girlfriend likes it rough, and the experience goes from unoriginal to rather nasty. However, that’s not as bad as ‘We Are Waiting For You’ which taps into spooky psychedelia, utilising horribly out of tune vocals and painful levels of musical meandering. I’ve no idea what he was thinking…

‘Drown Your Lies’ combines summer grooves and pop reggae in a style which sounds a lot like 311. Bedolla even manages to turn in a vocal which doesn’t decent into shouting or go off-key – and without any self-aggrandizing lyrics, this is the album’s best number hands down. ‘Always Something’ offers something equally subtle by Fantazzmo’s standards. The vocals are multi-tracked and soft. Musically there’s a hint of latter day Red Hot Chili Peppers (ie: bland and radio friendly), a couple of reggae breaks and a tone which also reminds me of 311 playing a Santana tune. This track features some great ideas, but has no real coherency. Being another of the better numbers, though, I’m thinking Bedolla ought to have explored his 311 influences further. ‘Fear In Me’ at first sounds like it’s also going a for a summery, mellow vibe in places, but any hope of it being a chilled-out classic is spoilt by Bedolla’s out of tune vocal which drifts into pointless slurring. Also, the rockier sections of the song are full of lyrics about how hard he is, how he carries a knife and how we ought to fear him. Oh, Christ – let’s hope he’s joking, otherwise this is rather sad. Actually, scratch that – even if he is joking, it’s still very, very unfortunate. The Fantazzmo experience finishes with a short acoustic instrumental piece which contains some odd musical phrases and isn’t that tuneful. It sounds like it ought to be on a Buckethead record, but frankly, saying that just gives it far too much credit.

Exactly whom does Bedolla thinks this album is going to appeal to, other than himself? He’s clearly convinced of its brilliance, but generally, listening to it leaves both a feeling of confusion and disgust listening to it. It’d be great to think this was designed as a comedy record or somehow tongue-in-cheek, but it’s unclear whether it was. There are a couple of okay moments, but on the whole, having music set your soul free rarely felt so torturous.

November 2010

PROSPEKT – Prospekt EP


With the fast riffs which open ‘Dissident Priests’, combined with a time signature which can be found gracing many a Dream Theater cut, it’s quickly obvious from where this Oxford quartet pull their greatest influences. However, Prospekt aren’t a band short on talent. In Blake Richardson they have a power-house drummer; in Phil Wicker a rock-solid bassist; in Matt Winchester, a decent vocalist who, at times, could rival a few of the prog-metal greats. Top these factors with a superb guitarist, whose style fuses an uncompromising heaviness with occasional notes-per-second style flashiness, and that presents a band with a promising array of characteristics. Granted, you won’t always hear great hooks or sing-along material, but like many progressive metal outfits, Prospekt’s musical prowess does the talking for them. ‘Dissident Priests’ may have many of Dream Theater’s key aspects firmly on show, but it’s a number which is perfect for introducing the band. Behind the monster riffs, guitarist Lee Luland throws in the odd horse noise (technical term) and some occasional drifiting into Eastern sounding riffs (coupled with a more Edge Of Sanity inspired growling vocal creeping in) stops things from becoming too predictable. While a strong opening track, there are a couple of better numbers to come.

‘Eternal Memories’ is a short piece, constructed from atmospheric keyboard drones and radio news samples featuring George W Bush and a report concerning the Kennedy assassination. This leads quickly into ‘Shroud’, a heavy riff-based number capturing Prospect on top form. The main guitar riff adopts a heavy chug, again in the spirit of Dream Theater, but also leaning toward the more basic elements of Symphony X. While vocalist Matt Winchester is no Russell Allen (and let’s face it, few people are), his presence and range could be a match for James LaBrie and Shadow Gallery’s Mike Baker. While Winchester puts in his best work, it’s still Prospekt’s instrumental dexterity which steals the show. While still very much prog-metal by numbers, the pneumatic drum work and choppy riffs at the four minute mark provide a particular highlight. While it mostly has the air of a number driven by attitude and riffing as opposed to flash soloing, there is more than enough space for Luland to deliver a couple of top-notch solos toward the end of the seven minute duration.

The closing number ‘Shutter Asylum’ opens with some rather smart neo-classical thrashing where Luland gets to show off a little, but behind his best work, Blake Richardson’s drum style is absolutely relentless. While Prospekt aren’t too shy in showing their influences, the sheer force and speed propelling this number could be best compared to Symphony X at their most aggressive. Once again, the guitar work throughout is fabulous, with a few downtuned riffs giving a sinister edge. While the track already showed Prospekt at their absolute heaviest, the general tone here really hammers their point home.

It’s great to hear an English band taking on a very American style and sub-genre of metal – and potentially delivering the goods as well as the best bands out there. Generally, Prospekt’s debut EP is unlikely to give the prog-metal die-hards any new thrills, but it doesn’t matter. If you’re a fan of any of the bands mentioned here, it’s probable you’ll also enjoy what Prospect have to offer.

You can stream the EP from the widget below, or alternatively, it’s available as a FREE download here!

March 2011



Black Flag’s second full-length was released in 1984, after a long period of imposed inactivity following a long drawn out court case. In theory, their return to the studio should’ve heralded a fantastic release, since it’d been almost three years since any new recordings were made. In reality – maybe as a reaction to their legal struggles – ‘My War’ is, at least in part, a wilfully difficult and oppressive album. This is the only release recorded by the three-piece line-up of Rollins, Greg Ginn and Bill Stevenson (who became Black Flag’s full time drummer while his band Descendents were taking a sabbatical), and as such, presents the band at a transitional time (all bass parts are credited to Dale Nixon – a pseudonym for Ginn). Throughout this release, the band sounds unfocused, with more than half the album meandering into the realms of self-indulgence.

The album starts out well enough, as side one is upbeat as well as aggressive. There’s a noticeable shift away from the more basic hardcore punk elements of their previous sound; in places it’s still evident, but as the album progresses, there’s more focus on an intense brand of sludge-rock. This generally presents a more mature Black Flag, and the fusing of these two styles would become the band’s signature sound on their later releases.

Bill Stevenson drives the title cut with some great hi-hat work and angry drumming. Rollins makes his presence very much felt, his lyrics of delivered with pure anger. Ginn’s guitar work, meanwhile, hovers between edgy riffing and angular soloing. At the track’s close, Ginn bashes out two chords, creating tension as Rollins’s already frustrated delivery steps up a gear, spitting his last few lines as if he were trapped inside the music. ‘Can’t Decide’ follows a similar musical path, but is smoother around the edges, with an extended arrangement allowing Ginn to stretch out a little. Delivering a set of lyrics concerning anger and indecision, Rollins sounds like the ultimate hardcore frontman.

Featuring an arrangement which constantly shifts between the punkier sound of ‘Damaged’-era Black Flag and the sound of mid-paced frustration, ‘Beat My Head Against a Wall’ is one of the album’s truly great numbers. During the slow parts, Ginn and Stevenson deliver grinding rock riffs over which Rollins adds to the tension. It’s during the faster parts, though, where Black Flag show their true greatness. Bill Stevenson’s drumming is tight, over which Ginn churns out great riffs and pointed solos in a manner which would pave the way for the basic sound of his post Black Flag jazz-punk instrumental trio, Gone. ‘I Love You’ steps up the pace and is a throwback to the band’s more classic sound. While it never quite matches the punk throttle of the best moments from ‘Damaged’, it shows that despite a slightly maturer sound, Black Flag can still pack a punch. The straight-ahead driving force of ‘Forever Time’ also shows a no-nonsense Black Flag – the energy of some of ‘Damaged’ is very much present, yet the overall tone (particularly during Ginn’s solo) hints more at ugly guitar based rock. Rollins doesn’t always sound at his best here – his shouty vocal delivery giving way to screaming in places, but as with a couple of the earlier tracks, Stevenson is on fire – his hi-hat work and fills showing far more sophistication than most other hardcore/punk drummers of the era.

‘The Swinging Man’ brings the first half to a close with an off-kilter rhythm and some superb drumming from Stevenson (quite possibly the true musical hero with regards to the first half of ‘My War’. Rollins is at his most frenzied, and the end result is more than threatening. It’s a pity that any subtleties in the musical performance are drowned out by Ginn hammering his fretboard in a manner more jarring than ever before. While the track features some decent musical ideas, there’s no restraint in the arrangement, and as such, it’s very difficult listening – unless, of course, you’re able to focus on that brilliant drum part.

The album’s second side can best be described as intense, but not in an exhilarating sense. Taking the grinding approach explored on ‘Damaged I’ (the definitive version of which can be found on Black Flag’s ‘Damaged’ full-length), ‘Nothing Left Inside’ slows things to a crawl. The guitar riff cranks its way through nearly seven minutes, which shifts between Rollins howling in pain and Ginn’s atonal guitar work. ‘Three Nights’ is marginally better thanks to part of Rollins’s delivery carrying a spirit of an angry poetry reading as opposed to a hardcore punk/rock vocal. By the time he screams ‘I’m going to make you feel the way I feel’, he’s gonna make sure you absolutely empathise with his torment, it’s intensity grabbing you and ripping your senses apart. ‘Scream’ takes a similar approach again, but turns the intensity up as far as possible, with screaming moments taking place for a proportion of the vocal. During this number, Ginn’s jazz-punk noodlings become so grating, that by the end of the track you’ve not so much been beaten into submission, as much as left feeling rather queasy, then wondering what the point of it all was.

Individually, each of these last three tracks would have been tolerable on any Black Flag album (but still unlikely to be enjoyable), but here – sequenced next to each other, with a playing time of near twenty minutes – the intensity becomes almost too much for the listening audience. It’s as if after the long period of studio inactivity, Black Flag are so angry they’ve deliberately trying to provoke their audience into feeling the kind of claustrophobia they may have experienced, not being allowed an outlet for new recordings for so long.

If you want a snapshot of the second half of ‘My War’, the war is one of internal anguish; a sound which takes the slowest moments of Black Sabbath and twists them into almost impenetrable ugliness. This approach undoubtedly became influential to some bands which followed, though – most notably those much-loved sludge merchants (the) Melvins. Although this kind of intensity could be admired, it’s incredibly hard to take when delivered over such a long duration; there’s also a feeling that the pounding, slow delivery of these three songs is a waste of drummer Bill Stevenson’s talents.

The release of ‘My War’ marked the beginning of a rush of releases over the next two years. Over the course of another four studio discs, Black Flag honed their brand of distinctive, grinding hard rock and punk (and even offered some spoken word material on side one of ‘Family Man’). The music on those albums comes across much better than demonstrated here – and often far less sludgy (in part that’s due to the arrival of Kira Roessler on bass, whose playing would show far more style than Ginn’s heavy handed approach). While ‘My War’ features a handful of great moments, overall, it isn’t a great Black Flag release. It has plenty aggression, but even during the album’s best moments (except for perhaps ‘Beat My Head…’) it’s at the expense of that spark which makes their other work so captivating.

March 2010/January 2011